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FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
Note: Throughout this commentary God’s Name is represented as YHWH in accordance with the Hebrew text. LXX represented it as kurios (‘Lord’). It is in fact a name that was seen as so sacred that no one ever pronounced it. Thus how to do so has been forgotten. Yahweh is probably the nearest best guess, although others suggest Yohweh. Jehovah is a corruption of it, which arose from the fact that the Jews put the vowel signs of adonai (Lord) to the consonants YHWH so that (to a Hebraist) the name was unpronounceable. The reader would then read it as adonai.
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’
This Psalm is offered to the person responsible for the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and is of the Davidic collection. ‘To (or ‘for’) David’ may indicate that it was dedicated to David, written for the Davidic house, or even written by David himself.
The Psalm falls into two parts indicating a twofold revelation of God. The first part speaks of His revelation in nature. God is revealed in nature in the fullness of His glory and power, and in this connection He is ‘God’ (El), the God of Creation. The second speaks of His revelation through His word, and in this connection He is ‘YHWH’, the God of covenant, the One Who instructs His own and is faithful to them. The first part declares His majestic splendour, and His goodness in His overall provision for man, the second His moral beauty and intimate concern for morality in the giving of His Law, His ‘Instruction’. The first calls for worship, the second for responsive obedience.
God Speaks Through Nature (19.1-6).
The psalmist tells us that as we behold the glory of the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars, and the wonder of the expanse above, with its splendid panoply of glistening blue, they declare to us God’s glory. Their beauty, splendour and vastness reveal something of what He is. Their very construction reveals his creativity and skill.
From surveying the heavens, says the Psalmist, we can understand something of God’s greatness, of His orderly power and control, and of the fact that He is the source of all earthly beauty and splendour. And finally we understand the idea that He is far above all.
Here we learn that every day has something new to say to us about God, every starlit night gives us greater knowledge of Him. The daylight, centred on the sun, reveals to us His created beauty, His intricate design, His sense of order, the darkness reveals a sense of mystery and yet through the moon and the stars we enjoy the certainty that all is in its place and that God has not forgotten us.
That is why Paul could say, ‘The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godhead.’ (Romans 1.20).
So central to the Psalmist’s revelation is that creation speaks to us constantly, bringing discernment and knowledge about the divine as God applies their lesson to our inward spirit, and that both day and night constantly proclaim Him and make Him known to the responsive heart.
‘Day to day utters (literally ‘pours out’) speech.’ Each day the message of the glory of God flows out abundantly to those who will hear, from every part of creation.
‘And night to night shows knowledge.’ And when the day is over contemplation of the night sky grants to us an awe and reverence as we behold its splendour and teaches us His mighty power, for the moon is steady in it purpose and regulates the months, and each star remains in its place and moves in measurable ways.
They do not speak in human tongue, for then they would only have a limited message for some. They are not heard through a human voice. Rather do they speak a universal language, a permanent word that never ceases. Their quiet splendour and silent eloquence ensure that we are never tired of listening to them, and cannot avoid them.
Thus does their message reach out to the whole earth, to the end of the world. ‘Their line’ here refers to the measuring line (Jeremiah 31.39; Zechariah 1.16), going out and measuring the sphere in which God is active through them, and ‘their words’ express their universal influence as they reveal His glory.
The use of the measuring line was always a symbol of God about to act (Ezekiel 40.3; Zechariah 1.16; 2.1-2).
And central to all this influence and activity is the sun that He has created. No god this, but an instrument of His pleasure, provided with its tent, its chamber, (that is, the place from which it can come forth), like a man emerging from his tent in the morning and a bridegroom appearing in all his splendour and triumph from the bridal chamber (Isaiah 61.10). This is how it appeared to man as he saw it rise and set. Like a man rises at sunrise and leaves his tent so does the sun rise for its day’s labour. Its ‘tent’ refers simply to wherever it comes from, described in picturesque language and in human terms.
And then like a strong man it fulfils its potential, it runs its course, from one end of heaven to the other, and nothing avoids its heat. It warms all that is, with none preventing it. It is God’s gracious provision for man’s welfare.
The whole vivid picture considers things as man sees them every day. Here is the whole panoply of creation, and here the sun rising and appearing in its splendour, making its way across the heavens, warming up the earth, reaching to every corner, and then, having performed its duty, setting in the west. For nothing is more prominent in the work of creation than the sun, set by God to play its part as ‘the greater light’ (Genesis 1.16). And nothing more effective in doing His will for the benefit of man.
So sun, moon and stars and the whole of heaven are a permanent reminder of the glory of God, and of His wondrous handiwork and gracious provision. It is a living work of art, a glorious spectacle of beauty and effectiveness and purpose. And it makes warm the whole earth and fills it with light.
But there is also something else that arises every morning and goes out through all the world and constantly brings to man light and heat and beauty and splendour, and that is ‘the word of YHWH’ as revealed in and taught from the Scriptures. They too declare the glory of God and reveal His handiwork (verse 1), they too speak and give knowledge (verse 2), they too warm the earth (verse 6), they too provide for the deepest needs of man.
God Speaks Through His Word And Covenant (19.7-11).
For the Instruction (torah - law) of YHWH is total and complete and fully fitted for its work of daily restoring and warming the soul, and the testimony of YHWH is certain and effective in making the simple wise. The ‘simple’ are not the foolish, rather are they those whose hearts are open, whose minds are not cluttered up with worldly wisdom, and who are therefore ready and fitted to receive His word. (The word is paralleled in Proverbs 1.4 with ‘the young man’). They can be likened to the children whose minds were so unfettered that they were ready to respond to the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 10.15). They are a reminder that God reveals Himself to those who are uncluttered by their own cleverness. Until we stop arguing we will never see Him.
The ‘Instruction of YHWH’ was the name applied to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, seen as God’s wider covenant. But here it refers not only to the words themselves but to their application through men of God who are faithful to that word, and above all through His Spirit. The Scriptures, however, remain the perfect standard. In the end what is written is written. (Thus the constant refrain, ‘it is written’). The ‘Testimony’ refers to its bearing witness to YHWH, to What He is, and what He requires, and What He will do on man’s behalf, that men may know Him and be enabled to walk in His will.
Note the transition from ‘God’ to ‘YHWH’, the covenant name. These benefits are for those who hear and respond to Him in His covenant, those whose pleasure it is to do His will as their sovereign Lord.
The ‘precepts of YHWH’, the injunctions that YHWH lays down, are fully right, and they bring rejoicing to the heart, for our God-given conscience totally approves of them. Each commandment of YHWH is pure, bringing knowledge and understanding and perception so that man sees what is true. Not a yod or tittle of the Instruction will fail until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5.18). Thus are they beloved of the righteous who desire them above all things (compare Psalm 119.35, 40, 47, 77, 97, 103-4, 127-8).
In parallel with instruction, testimony, precepts, commandment and ordinances, the ‘fear of YHWH’ refers to God’s word as that which fills men with awe and reverence, which imparts the fear of YHWH which gives wisdom and understanding (Job 28.28; Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 1.7). The ‘fear of YHWH’ is here the awe-inspiring word (see Deuteronomy 4.10). It is clean and pure, free of all that would taint it, and thus itself cleanses and purifies, and it goes on for ever. There is nothing of corruption in it. It is of the other world, not of this one.
The ‘ordinances of YHWH’, the requirements that God lays down, are altogether true and righteous in their totality.
So God’s word as given to His people is here exalted as being of greater benefit than the sun, and as going deeper, for while the sun is an external blessing, God’s word reaches to the very heart of man.
In mind here are all that are spoken of in verses 7-9. God’s whole word as revealed in His instruction, His testimony, His precepts, His commandments, His fear, and His ordinances is of greater value than much pure gold, and is sweeter than the sweetest honey from the honeycomb. ‘The droppings’ are the honey that exudes naturally, the very sweetest of the honey.
Note the emphasis. God’s teaching is more desirable, not only than gold or even fine gold, but than much fine gold. They are the riches of Heaven. And it is sweeter than anything otherwise known to man.
And not only are they desirable, they are also vital to our welfare. For they warn us of what will bring us under God’s displeasure, and by observing them and putting them into practise we will receive great reward, both in this world and that which is to come (1 Timothy 4.8). They will make life fuller and more glorious (Proverbs 22.4), bringing peace and deep satisfaction (1 Timothy 6.6), and the fullness of the blessings of God.
The Resulting Prayer For Deliverance From Sin And Declaration Of God’s Total Reliability (19.12-14).
But the Psalmist admits that although he delights in Yahweh’s Instruction there are still errors and sins in his life that he is not easily aware of. For he is so sinful that even God’s Instruction cannot cover all his sins. So he prays that he may be cleansed from what is hidden, his faults of which he is not aware. He wants God to put him in the right before Him because he himself, as far as he is able, looks to Him and lives according to His word.
Indeed he prays that God will keep him, as God’s true servant, from sinning presumptuously. In context this surely means from deliberately disobeying His Instruction. That he does not want to do. Although he recognises that he does sin unwittingly, for he longs to be delivered from the dominion of sin, he wants to be delivered from a wayward heart. We can compare here Paul in Romans 7. It is the attitude of heart and mind that must be right, and then the rest will follow, depending on God’s forgiveness and His activity within (12b, 13a).
It should be noted here that the Psalmist makes clear that his only hope is that God will act in His life. Without that he will have no hope of being true. It is in the end to God that he looks for deliverance.
And the result will be that he will be upright, and will be clear from ‘great transgression’, the kind of sin that finally destroys, sin that is deliberate and habitual (see Numbers 15.30-31). Such sin ‘rules over’ men (John 8.34; Romans 6.12-14) and results in judgment.
‘Presumptious’, that is, ‘whatever is presumptious’, whether sins or actions, which result from pride and arrogance, and are a deliberate flouting of God’s law.
So does he want to be right in mouth and heart so as to behave in a way that is totally acceptable to God. And he finishes with the heartfelt prayer that in both the words of his mouth and the thoughts of his heart he might be acceptable in God’s sight. He recognises that it is what is in the heart that defiles a man (Mark 7.20-23). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23.7). And that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12.34), so that by our words we will be accounted righteous or condemned (Matthew 12.37).
‘Be acceptable.’ The word connects with acceptability with God achieved through sacrifice (Leviticus 1.3, 4). He desires that his words and thoughts be acceptable offerings to God, free from all taint and blemish.
For YHWH is his rock and his redeemer, and his desire is to please Him. The idea of the rock is of a solid and sure foundation (18.1; Isaiah 26.4 in context), and includes the idea of protection (Isaiah 32.2). The idea of a ‘redeemer’ is of one who acts on another’s behalf, delivering from bondage and from sin, and ensuring his reinstatement in blessing and favour, by the expenditure of saving effort and/or by the payment of a price.
This short Psalm is a cry that God will faithfully respond to His own in the day of trouble. Such a day of trouble has apparently come and the appeal is threefold, firstly for YHWH to act in response to the past faithfulness of His people, secondly, because of YHWH’s own trustworthiness as their covenant God, and thirdly and finally because He is their King.
It may be that we are to see it as in the form of prayer and response. First the leading intercessor makes his declaratory petition (verses 1-4). Then the people respond (5 a-b). Then again the leader speaks (5c), followed by further response (6-8; verse 6 may be the response of the high priest alone) and concluding with a final plea for deliverance (9).
This is another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. The prayer is for God to aid the Davidic king, giving him victory against the enemies of God’s people.
The Leading Intercessor Speaks To The People By Way Of Intercession (20.1-4).
We note here the singular ‘you’. The reference is probably to the whole people seen as one. Or it may be spoken to the king as representing the people. Either way it was probably spoken in the tabernacle/temple precincts while sacrifices were being offered (verse 3), in a day of trouble, possibly when news had come of raids on their territory and possibly more. We do not all suffer from those now, but we do suffer the encroachments of another Enemy.
The leading petitioner (who may be the anointed Prince, or the High Priest) appeals for Yahweh to help them (the people) on the day of trouble that has come on them, and to set them in a place of safety and victory. Reference to ‘the God of Jacob’ may recognise that they are like Jacob, the weak and failing side of Jacob/Israel, but at the same time stressing that they are looking to His mercy, precisely because He was the God of Jacob, the weak and failing one who yet proved his strength with God. Or they may be proudly naming their ancestor, and reminding God that they are descended from one who was His chosen, and that they are His chosen in him. Either way the appeal is that He will establish them ‘on high’, in the place of honour and victory.
‘The name of the God of Jacob set you up on high.’ That is, God as He is revealed through His name.
The deliverance is looked for ‘from the sanctuary’, that is from the invisible God acting from Heaven through His throne over the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH in the Holiest of All. They look for strengthening (‘a holding up’) in their endeavours, in all they sought to do, a ‘holding up’ coming out of Mount Zion, the earthly dwellingplace of God, on which the Tabernacle or Temple stands.
The assumption is that God will hear and answer their cry because by His own choice He has taken up His dwelling among His people, and because He is their God Who has elected to make a covenant with them, and their prince is His anointed one (verse 6), His chosen.
So as the offerings for YHWH’s aid are offered, the petitioner appeals to God to remember all their past offerings which have revealed them as His true covenant people, and to especially note these that are now being offered. The offerings are both an admission of sin, a means of atonement and a token of rededication to God’s covenant. To ‘remember’ them will be to act in response to them
‘All your offerings.’ Possibly in mind are the meal offerings (mincha - ‘gift’) which accompanied sacrifices. Also the ‘burnt offering’ (‘whole offering’, i.e. wholly consumed by fire) which was wholly offered to YHWH. These two composed the daily morning and evening offering (Exodus 29.38-42; Numbers 28.3-8). But they were also offered at other times as well, and the fact that the meal offerings are plural suggests that this is referring to extra offerings possibly resulting from the crisis. ‘Accept as fat’ means to treat it as acceptable. The fat was an important part of the offering.
For sacrificial offerings made specifically in preparation for war see 1 Samuel 7.9-10; 13.9-12 and Jeremiah 6.4 which speaks of ‘sanctifying a war’.
The speaker’s final petition is that they will receive what they desire from their hearts, and will be prospered in what they have decided to do in order to deal with the problem on hand.
The People’s Response (20.5a).
The people make response by declaring their faith and confidence that He will deliver, thus causing them to triumph, and proclaim that it is in His name that they will set up their banners. Firstly it will be in faith, in readiness for their victorious assaults against the enemy with Him on their side, and then, once their faith is rewarded, in revealing the victory after the battle. All would be one in declaring their confidence in YHWH.
The Original Petitioner Then Adds His ‘Amen’ (20.5b).
The leading petitioner then takes over stating his confident hope that YHWH their God will fulfil all their petitions. This is followed by a confident declaration that God will respond to His anointed prince and give him the strength required for victory.
This Could Be A Declaration of Faith From The Original Petitioner or From The High Priest (20.6).
This could be the continuation of the words of the leading petitioner, or the words of the High Priest. Either way his confidence is that YHWH will save His anointed (the Davidic Prince), delivering him from his foes by answering from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand (by exerting His strongest power) and giving him victory. ‘Has saved’ is expressing the certainty that it will be so. Alternately ‘His anointed’ may mean the people as a whole.
The People Again Respond Asserting Their Total Dependence on YHWH (20.7-9).
The contrast is then made between them and their opponents, and indeed them and all the world. Whereas others trust in chariots and horses, and in all their other weaponry and worldly resources, God’s people trust in the name of YHWH their God. That is, they believe in what He is as represented by His name. His name, and what He is, will be their battlecry and their boast. They need nothing else. Although they will arm themselves as adequately as they are able, they recognise that without Him they can do nothing. Faith, however, is no excuse for lack of effort. In the words of Cromwell, they trust in God and keep their powder dry.
That they have made a sensible choice comes out in the fact that the chariots and horses will fail their enemies so that they will bow down and fall (seen as already accomplished). While through their confidence in the name of YHWH they know that they themselves will, after the battle, arise and stand upright.
The Psalm ends with a firm plea to the covenant King. Let Him save, by answering them when they call. Alternately it may be a plea to YHWH to save, by means of their king responding when they call, but the former is more likely.
The general principle behind the Psalm can be applied to all God’s people when they face trouble. They can call on God to help them through His Anointed Who is with them, and be certain of God’s victory in whatever way He pleases to send it.
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’
This is another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. There is much in it that suggests that it was written by David, for it was to David that the promise was given that his house would continue for ever. It may be seen as a song of victory following the petition of Psalm 20. It is a song of triumph for the king and for the everlasting blessing that the Davidic house will bring. It can therefore also be seen as looking ahead to the Greater David, the Messiah Jesus Christ. The Targum (Aramaic paraphrase read out in the Synagogue) paraphrases ‘king’ in verses 1 & 7 as ‘King Messiah’.
We may therefore see this psalm in three ways.
Praise and Worship Is Offered To YHWH For His Goodness And Faithfulness Towards His Anointed (21.1b-7).
The psalmist declares that the king will rejoice in YHWH’s strength, especially His strength as revealed in His great deliverance on behalf of His people, because He has given them victory. As God’s anointed God has blessed him by revealing His saving power through him, and he can now rejoice in the fulfilment of the promises given to him as God’s chosen one. So should all rejoice who find themselves being used as His instruments as God goes before them to give them victory, although often only after the battle has been fierce.
Jesus Messiah also rejoiced in His Father’s strength and wisdom, and in the wonder of His salvation as worked out through Himself (Luke 10.20-22; John 12.28).
For YHWH has given to His king the desire of his heart, victory over his enemies and the enemies of God’s people. He has not withheld from him anything of what he requested. Selah. ‘Think of that!’ Think also of the fact that in the end all triumphs by the people of God are due to Him.
This psalm is a reminder to us that the Davidic king was ever seen as having the responsibility of being a chief intercessor on behalf of his people, for as king of Jerusalem he was seen as a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4), responsible before God for the welfare of the city. This would also be why he was to have a special place in Ezekiel’s heavenly temple (Ezekiel 44.3).
How much more then will that be true of the Great Intercessor, the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek described in Hebrews, (see Hebrews 6.20 and regularly in the letter), Who makes intercession continually on behalf of His own.
It is a reminder that we too should never forget to rejoice in God when He hears and answers our prayers.
Indeed God goes to meet the king with ‘the blessings of goodness’. This probably signifies ‘the blessings that come from the goodness of God’. These blessings include his crown of fine gold, a symbol of his prosperity and victory, and the longevity promised to the house of David.
Kings were regularly greeted with the words, ‘May the king live for ever’ (1 Kings 1.31; Nehemiah 2.3). The thought was that he might have long days and be succeeded by his sons. Here that is extended to ‘forever and ever’. It is never to cease. The exaltation is in the fact that he is the chosen of YHWH, Who will give him long life and will give to him through his seed an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.16).
‘You set a crown of fine gold on his head.’ There may be an allusion here to 2 Samuel 12.30 as an illustration of the glory that He constantly gave him in the defeat of his enemies. It possibly especially has in mind the crown of gold he had received from the enemy he had recently defeated. For it was customary for the victor to take the defeated king’s crown. But it may rather simply indicate that he was God’s anointed and therefor crowned with the finest of crowns.
‘He asked life of you, you gave it to him, even length of days for ever and ever.’ Compare 61.5-6. Long life was always the request of kings both for their own sake, and because it was thought to evidence their righteousness. It was especially important in view of the fact that a king’s death could bring hardship on his people, especially if his successors were weak or quarrelsome (compare also Hezekiah’s concern in Isaiah 38.10-20 and see Exodus 23.26; 1 Kings 3.11-14; Proverbs 3.1-2 in respect of length of days). So the king is given ‘length of days’. But here the thought would seem to include life through a long and successful dynasty, ensuring the effective continuation of his rule (2 Samuel 7.12-16).
But far more wonderfully was it fulfilled in the One Who was crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2.9) and Whom God raised from the dead that He might be our everlasting King (Acts 2.24, 32-36) and give us life for evermore.
Further benefits that the king receives are now described. He gets great glory from the recent deliverance as plaudits are poured on him, honour and majesty are bestowed on him as a result of his conquest, as kings submit their kingdoms to him, but most importantly he continues in the everlasting blessing of God, revealed in continual triumphs, and enjoys gladness and joy in the presence of God. He enjoys peace with God and peace for his kingdom. No one ever loses by their faithfulness to God.
For the success of the king is evidence of the divine favour, so that he basks in His glory, and as a truly righteous king walks in the light of His presence (see 4.6; 16.11; 89.15; 140.13).
How much more then is the eternal glory poured out on the King Messiah Who receives all these things in even greater abundance as He takes His throne in Heaven, with all being made subject to Him. For glory, honour and majesty are divine attributes (8.1, 5; 104.1).
‘For you make him most blessed for ever.’ This is literally ‘you make him blessings for ever’ (compare Genesis 12.2). He is not only blessed but he dispenses blessing and is the source of blessing to his people. The people are themselves blessed in the success of their king, both because his success brings peace and joy, and because it brings stability and wealth. And of none was this more true in the spiritual sphere than with the King of Kings.
And all this results from the king’s faith in God. It is because he trusts in YHWH, and through His lovingkindness, that nothing can move or defeat him. It is his trust in God that is the foundation of his success.
Again we see how true this also was of the King Messiah, for He too trusted His Father fully, and was confident in His mercy and goodness. That was the root of His own success. And it gained Him the victory.
Attention Now Turns To The King Declaring His Reward and His Success Because He Trusts In YHWH (21.8-12).
The consequence of his faith is that the king will root out and defeat all his enemies. Neither their subtlety nor their strength will succeed against him. Wherever they hide he will discover them. Whatever their plots he will know of them. Compare Psalm 2.
There is also here the assurance that those who are God’s can always be sure that He will watch over them, and that He will know all that there is to know about their enemies.
And finally there is here the guarantee that the King Messiah will finally triumph over all His enemies who will not be able to avoid His searching eye. As the next verse makes clear, they will be brought into fiery judgment before Him.
For God’s anger, His antipathy to sin, is aroused against the enemies of His people, because their very sinfulness is revealed in their desire to attack those who are faithful to Him. That is why He allow their enemies’ cities to be burned and the fires to destroy them. For He will enable the king to capture their cities and make them like a blazing furnace, and when the king personally arrives (the time of his countenance) and reveals his anger at their behaviour against God’s people, they will be swallowed up before the face of God’s anointed, and this will be in accordance with God’s will. For God’s wrath is revealed, as well as the king’s, because He is determined that He will protect His own who obey His covenant and reveal their love for Him and His ways, against all that would come against them. That then is why He will allow the fire to devour their enemies. Fire is often used in Scripture as a metaphor for the wrath of God (see e.g. Exodus 19.18; Hebrews 12.29; Revelation 1.14; and often).
While in our day this may seem ferocious we must remember that the people then lived in dangerous circumstances in dangerous days. Enemies were ever likely to swoop on them in order steal their possessions, rape their wives, burn their cities, destroy their crops and slay their children (especially the males), taking over their land, and either driving them out or exacting penal tribute (See Judges for examples). The only alternative was for their armies to get in first and prevent it.
But as Scripture constantly reveals God does not directly intervene in the details of world affairs. He carries out His will by controlling men’s overall activity, leaving the details to men themselves. Thus Nebuchadnezzar could be His servant (Jeremiah 25.9; 27.6) in spite of the terrible things he did. God was not responsible for the terrible things. He did not interfere with the detail. He had final overall direction as to what was or was not accomplished.
And the result will be that the ‘fruit’ of their enemy, their sons and daughters (Lamentations 2.20), will be destroyed from the face of the earth by the king and his armies. Their seed will be destroyed from among the children of men. This would ensure the future, for it was only by rendering the enemy weak that they could be subdued and prevented from being a constant threat.
And the king’s success in all this mirrors the success of King Messiah when He comes to judge the world.
For, as he points out here, these peoples that have been attacked by the king were not innocent. They had intended evil against them. They were constantly plotting and planning their raids. And the only reason that their plans failed was because the king got in first. That is the reason that they were not able to ‘perform’ their ‘devices’. So do we learn that God can deal with all our enemies, whatever their schemes, if we respond to what He asks of us.
21.12 ‘For you will make them turn their back,
Thus the enemy will not be able to stand against them, but will turn their back to them, while their own bowstrings will cause havoc and devastation among the enemy. Their victory will be certain because God is with His anointed.
We are reminded here that God may allow chastening for His people for a little while, but He will not allow them finally to be destroyed. He will guide us in the use of whatever weapons we possess so as to discomfit our enemies.
A Final Cry is Now Made Directly To YHWH (21.13).
21.13 ‘Be exalted, O YHWH, in your strength,
And their final plea is that YHWH might be exalted, revealing His strength. Thus will they be able to sing and praise His power. In the end it is the glory of God that matters, not the success of men, and it is that which should be our main concern, and it should always lead us to praise and worship.
As we come to this psalm we can only stop and wonder. For if we had found it as a fragment with no date attached in some Egyptian papyrus pile we would instantly have assigned its first half as a description of the crucifixion of Jesus (see Meditation following the commentary on the Psalm). The coincidences, we would have said, are too marked, the details too certain, for us to do otherwise. And this would be further supported by the fact that the consequences of the prayer of the one described here is the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God over the ‘poor/meek’ (verse 26; compare Matthew 5.3, 5) and over the nations (verse 28).
And yet we know that it was written hundreds of years before He was born. We can only therefore consider it in awe and reverence as we consider its background and its source, and recognise in it God’s means of describing the sufferings of His Son long before the event, a description brought about through the experiences and ideas of the Psalmist.
The psalm is split into two major parts, parts which are in total contrast.
It is clear that we are to see the one as leading on to the other.
Various suggestions about its origin have been made. Some have seen in it the words of a man caught up in some dreadful and debilitating sickness, others as the words of a Davidic king being pursued and in despair, possibly even David himself, seemingly defeated and pressed in by the enemy, having lost hope, and also having lost the confidence of a majority of the people, with the leading men of the people having turned against him in scorn, and captivity and death staring him in the face. In the course of his nightmare he sees himself as a hunted animal, and visualises his final capture and the ignominious treatment that will be meted out to him. Possibly he visualises it in terms of some great chase during a hunt, when the hunted animal is subjected to a cruel death, and applying the idea to himself he cries out for deliverance.
Yet others see it as an ‘ideal’ picture of the righteous sufferer, describing the multitude of ways that such might suffer in the world preparatory to the bringing in of God’s righteous kingly rule. It may be compared in this way with Isaiah 53. And still others have seen it as the cry of the people of God in the awfulness of exile.
But as with Isaiah 53 it might be thought that any suggestion that takes away from it the idea of the awful sufferings of some particular individual must be wide of the mark, for the intensity of suffering is too real, and the despair too deep, for it to come from any other than personal experience.
Certainly the heading connects the psalm with the house of David. We might well therefore see it as initially true of David himself in the days of his persecution by Saul, or of one of his descendants in a time of great crisis and defeat. Its inclusion in worship would then show that it could be seen as continuing to apply to the house of David as it went through its traumas of history. At any time they could find themselves facing a similar experience, and could have the same hope. For YHWH was the deliverer of the weak and helpless in the face of the enemy.
And as such it can above all be interpreted Messianically, (as it is also at Qumran), as preparing for the day when great David’s greater Son will endure precisely such contradiction of sinners against Himself, for it was later recognised that the Son of Man must emerge from suffering to receive his throne (Daniel 7.14), and that the Messiah would be cut off and would have nothing (Daniel 9.25). It clearly also links with the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
That Jesus applied the psalm to Himself is clear from His cry on the cross (Mark 15.34) which cites the first verse of the psalm, and John sees further fulfilment of it in terms of the distribution of Jesus’ clothing (verse 18 with John 19.24), while the words of those who put him to scorn are paralleled by bystanders at the cross. That there are many parallels between the Psalm and Jesus’ experience on the cross we will see as we consider the psalm in detail. For here we have God writing the story prior to the event.
That Israel and Judah would also apply it to their own sufferings could also be guaranteed, but that does not necessarily signify that that was its source. That was the purpose of Psalms, to be applied to many cases. The Psalm may well, however, have been the inspiration for the expressions of suffering in Isaiah and Jeremiah as they recognised that God’s purposes would be achieved through suffering, especially in Isaiah’s vision of a suffering exalted One (Isaiah 52.13-15).
‘For the Chief Musician; set to Aijeleth hash-Shahar. A Psalm of David.’
This is yet another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. As such it was intended to aid the worship of Israel, something which must be borne in mind when seeking to interpret its significance. It was intended to have a message for its day.
The tune Aijeleth hash-Shahar means ‘hind of the dawn’. If it indicated a hind stirred at break of day by the horns of the huntsmen, having to endure the chase and to die under the teeth of the hunting dogs and the spears of the huntsmen, exhausted and in complete hopelessness, it would be very fitting. Perhaps that was in the mind of the composer and/or the writer. If the writer thought in such terms it would help to explain some of the vivid language that follows.
However, one thing that stands out about this Psalm is that in all the despair there is (unusually) no confession of guilt. The one who prays does so as one who has no awareness of sin. He cries for vindication, not for forgiveness. It is a fitting picture of Jesus Christ Who alone could genuinely have prayed like this (see Meditation that follows).
A Cry Of Despair From The Heart, From One Who Yet Hopes In God (verses 1-10).
God is here spoken of as El, (Eli, Eli - my God, my God - in the Aramaic Eloi or Eli).
In context it should be recognised that this is not a total cry of despair, for hope is shortly expressed in God. But it is certainly an indication of the deep distress of the speaker. The dual ‘my God, my God’ is both an expression of faith (‘my’) and an indication of urgency (compare Isaiah 49.14). The writer cannot understand why he should be undergoing such torment of spirit, and why the miseries of life should have been so thrust on him. It would fit well with David’s worst periods in his flight from Saul as he felt himself being constantly hunted down by one whom he was aware was slightly mad, and who sought his life with the intensity of a madman.
What is worse the writer feels that his sufferings have gone on for far too long. God is still far from helping him, and he feels that his roaring like an animal in pain has apparently been in vain (compare 32.3; 38.8). None would know better than David the roaring in anguish of the lion as it was slain by the shepherd with no one to deliver it.
That Jesus applied it to Himself in the depths of His sufferings on the cross is not surprising. It would bring some comfort in the midst of His dreadful anguish and misery, as He faced alone the consequences of sin as they were laid upon Him, and the darkness of His struggles with the Enemy, to know that what He faced had already been foreshadowed in these words.
The psalmist was experiencing his suffering and rejection day and night. He cried constantly to God, but he was seemingly not being heard. Daily his prayer would reach up to God, nightly he was in such despair that he could not sleep and utilised the time for more prayer. He could not be silent for his spirit was heavy in him.
This would certainly have been the experience of David, and it was so of many since. When a Christian is in despair as to why his prayers are seemingly not being answered he can take comfort from the thought that others have gone that way before, only to come out triumphant.
We may see here the daylight hours on the cross followed by the darkness that covered the whole earth when Jesus was being crucified. We cannot doubt that His cry to His God and Father was constant. It also reflects the darkness of Gethsemane when He could not be silent.
The psalmist now calls on God in terms of what He is and in the light of his memories of Israel’s past. He knows that God is holy, set apart and distinct, right in all He does. He does not doubt, therefore, that what God allows must be good and that He will do what is right in this circumstance too. And this reminds him of how Israel had suffered in the past, but had in the end in their darkness always enjoyed God’s deliverance.
‘But you are holy.’ He gives pause for thought. He recognises that God is set apart and unknowable. There is no searching of His understanding. His ways are not our ways and therefore we must hesitate before we speak. ‘God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5.1). He must not prejudge God, and he can be sure that what this holy God does is right and that He will in the end save His people. Compare Habakkuk 1.12.
‘O you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel..’ For he knows too that He ‘is enthroned on the praises of Israel’. He is Israel’s God, and their covenant Lord and King, and they worship Him constantly and truly. He is sure therefore that He Who thus receives their worship and homage will not fail them.
‘‘Our fathers trusted in you. They trusted, and you delivered them. They cried to you, and were delivered, they trusted in you, and were not put to shame.’ His confidence is boosted by his knowledge of God’s mercies in the past. Here we have an indication that his troubles are not just personal. There are the whole people to consider. But their fathers had trusted in God, indeed had trusted threefold, (‘they trusted -- they trusted -- they trusted’) and God had never failed them. When they cried to Him at times when they were almost in despair that there could be any hope, they did not end up shamefaced, for in the end He always responded by delivering them. He could not fail to respond to threefold faith.
Therefore is he now confident that God will respond in this situation too, however bad it may seem. Certainly even as he fled from Saul David could see the despair of Israel. The Philistines were pressing in on them, demanding, in many parts, heavy tribute, and Saul was fighting against them a losing battle. Things looked bleak indeed.
And Jesus too on the cross, meditating on these words, knew better than any how good God had been to His people. Indeed was that not why He was there?
Yet the psalmist wants God to know the depths of the humiliation that he feels, and that he does not see himself sufficient to deliver Israel. He feels like a worm, writhing in the dust, treated with contempt, kicked and despised. He feels that he is not a man at all, but the lowest of the low, constantly under the reproach of men. And anyway they do not want him. They despise him.
Even a man like David would have known such moments of darkness and despair when all seemed lost and he felt like lying down in the dust and dying (compare Elijah’s cry in 1 Kings 19.10, 14). And this was the man after God’s own heart. But it is when man is at his lowest that God steps in to deliver.
And such was the treatment meted out to Jesus on the cross as He was treated as less than a human being, and as those who should have worshipped Him mocked instead and constantly reproached Him. He was treated as a worm.
The parallels with Isaiah are significant. There too YHWH’s servant was called a worm (Isaiah 41.14). There too the favoured of God was as one despised by men (Isaiah 49.7; 50.6; 53.3). There too they shrank from him because he was scarcely human (Isaiah 52.14; 53.2-3).
The psalmist is aware of what people are saying about him. He feels deeply their scorn and their insults, and their despising of the faith that he had constantly asserted before them. In the good days he had declared his confidence in YHWH. Now they threw it back in his face. Their thought was, ‘Did not his present position show that they had been in the right and not him?’ So they laughed at him, mocking him. They made faces at him; they shook their heads in amused reproach (see 35.21; Job 16.4, 10; Lamentations 2.15). Where was his favoured position now? They committed him mockingly to YHWH. Let him roll his problem on YHWH. If YHWH really did really favour him, let Him now demonstrate it. But they were confident that He would not.
‘Seeing He delights in him.’ Previously his faith had made them feel uncomfortable. Now they retaliate with sarcasm. Did God really delight in him? Well they could see for themselves how true that was.
So might David well have felt with almost the whole of Israel against him, his popularity dissipated, and his rivals glad to see him gone. There is nothing like success for winning enemies, especially among rivals. And even more deeply would Jesus have felt it on the cross. He had come purposing only good, and they had rejected Him and treated Him as though He were evil, even mocking His Father’s purposes. These very things were done to Him and these very words were spoken against Him by His enemies round the cross (Matthew 27.39, 43). They did not realise that they were fulfilling prophecy and condemning themselves. ‘Laugh me to scorn.’ The verb in LXX is also used in Luke 23.35 of the rulers jeering at Jesus.
But the psalmist is very much aware of God’s hand on his life and that, in spite of present circumstance, he did trust in God in the way that his reproachers doubted, and that he did believe that God would deliver him. It was God Who had brought him to birth, it was God Who from earliest days had nurtured his faith (compare 71.5-6), it was God on Whom he had constantly relied (compare 55.22), for often he had had no one else to turn to, and it was to God that he had constantly looked from when he was very young. Their reproaches were therefore false.
So would David have felt as he looked back over his life, for his heart had been right from earliest days, which is why he was God’s chosen (1 Samuel 16.7, 12). He would remember too how he had been cast on God when the lion and the bear had come against his flock (1 Samuel 17.34), and how God had delivered Goliath into his hands even while he was but a youth (1 Samuel 17.42-50).
And of no one was this more true than of Jesus, Who was miraculously born at the express will of His Father (Luke 1.35), and Who had looked to Him and learned from Him from His earliest days (Luke 2.40).
The Sufferer’s Prayer For Deliverance And Provides A Description of His Predicament (22.11-21).
That we are to see some of these descriptions as figurative comes out in verse 21 where the psalmist sums all up by describing it as being saved from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild ox. He has a vivid imagination and knows much about the hunt and about the behaviour of wild beasts, and how they are treated in the hunt.
Aware of trouble approaching the sufferer cries to God for help. In verse 1 he had said that God was far from him. Now he pleads that it might not be so, for, if He is, he is lost. He confirms that he has nowhere else to turn and asks God ‘not to be far from Him’, for he is facing almost impossible dangers.
His enemies are gathered against him on all sides. They are like bulls which have a tendency to gather around any strange object and can easily be moved to attack it. Yes, they are like the strongest of bulls, the strong bulls of Bashan, an area famous for its lush pastures (Deuteronomy 32.14; Amos 4.1). They are impenetrable. And their mouths are wide open to swallow him like the mouth of a ravening and roaring lion (see 7.2). (This mixing of metaphors confirms that he as enemies in mind, not bulls). Perhaps some of his main enemies came from Bashan, east of Jordan in the north.
This description is probably not to be taken literally, although he may well have been going through a bout of severe illness which made him feel totally out of sorts. ‘Poured out like water’ parallels the ‘melted wax’. He feels drained and empty, with his joints stiff and painful as if the bones were out of joint, and his innermost heart failing under the pressure. Compare 6.2-3, 6-7; Joshua 7.5). But if he has just fled from a defeat it is always possible that he had suffered a fall in his eagerness to escape.
In his constant flight from Saul David may well have experienced such misery more than once. But this may have been a particularly bad experience.
For Jesus this did become literally true. Not only would He be physically drained and probably suffering from hypothermia in the hot sun, but crucifixion could literally take His bones out of joint and His sufferings would certainly affect His mental state and His emotions (His heart) so that they seemed like wax melted within Him.
The idea of the potsherd is probably of a pot that has been overheated and become so dried out that it has cracked and broken. The tongue cleaving to his jaws represented excessive thirst. So did the psalmist feel totally dried up, with his strength gone (see 32.4). This may have been as a result of his illness, or the result of flight through hot, desert places, or both.
David may well have experienced such conditions as he fled through the desert to escape from Saul’s searchers, and had to hide in inhospitable places, especially if he was also ill at the time.
It was certainly Jesus’ experience on the cross to suffer excessive thirst, which He refused to quench until His work was done (Matthew 27.34).
It may be that the psalmist had been hunted down with dogs, dragged down into the dust to die, surrounded by those who hunted him, and had his hands and feet pierced by the spears of the hunters to render him helpless, or by the teeth of the dogs, only to be delivered at the last moment. But it may be that he is simply vividly describing the fate that he shortly envisages will be his unless some miracle happens, as he hears the baying of the dogs in the distance, and knows what they will do with any fugitive they catch, and is aware also of how men like his pursuers mutilate a man so that he can no longer harm them, cutting the tendons of hands and feet. A third alternative is that he is depicting his fate in picturesque terms take from his knowledge of the hunt.
This may have been true of any Davidic king fleeing for his life after a resounding defeat, but if this was David fleeing from Saul he would know that he was sufficiently feared as a warrior to warrant such particular attentions (compare Judges 1.6-7).
Alternately the description of ‘the dogs’ may simply be metaphorical as a description of rabid humans. All were familiar with the packs of savage dogs that scavenged outside cities, and sometimes even within. They provided a fitting illustration of those whose hatred was so intense that they would literally snarl at him when they caught him.
And there is no more vivid way of describing the packs of evil men who had gathered to hunt Jesus down and see that He met the awful fate that they had planned for Him, than as a pack of mangy dogs. That such men gathered round Him and pierced His hands and His feet is without question.
‘You have brought me into the dust of death.’ This describes the final ignominy for a hunted man as he is finally caught and dragged down into the dust to die, whether literally or metaphorically. But here he sees himself as brought to this pass by God Himself. It was the will of YHWH to bruise him (Isaiah 53.10).
‘They pierced my hands and my feet.’ Unless an unknown verb or poetic form is in use the Massoretic Text has ‘like a lion (ca’ari) my hands and my feet’. ‘They pierced’ is ca’aru as suggested by LXX and other versions. But i and u (yod and waw) can be very similar in Hebrew copying and this may be a rare copying mistake in MT, so that LXX has preserved the true rendering. The original thought may then be that the dogs have bitten his hands and feet and pierced him with their teeth, or that the hunters have done it with spears and arrows. That it literally happened to Jesus we know through the nails on the cross.
The Targum has the conflated ‘biting like a lion’. It is, however, always possible that he is seen as being meted out the normal treatment for a lion when caught and kept alive. with its claws being broken by a hammer or extracted, thus signifying ‘they smashed/rendered useless/mangled my hands and my feet’. It may be significant that there is no reference to this phrase in the New Testament.
He has been so hard-pressed, and so without solid food over so long a period, that he has been reduced to skin and bones. As they tear from him his rich clothing to share the spoils among them he is able to count all his ribs, while his adversaries stand around and stare at him in grim delight at how he has suffered.
Again there may be an element of exaggeration in this, and it is therefore quite likely that such words might have been found on the lips of David, especially if he was suffering from the nightmare of what might well shortly happen to him.
Of Jesus again the words were literally true. After His ill-treatment at the hands of Jewish leaders and Romans, being hung and distorted on a cross would make his bones clearly visible beneath His skin, as His adversaries stood around and stared.
If the psalmist’s clothing was of rich quality they may well have stripped him and given him an old piece of cloth, even if his nakedness bothered them at all (see Isaiah 20.4). This would be their reward for capturing such an important prisoner.
We can well see that the thought of such ignominy would have been a nightmare to David, the practise possibly being well known to him as occurring among soldiers, and the mention of the vesture (the undergarment, a seamless tunic) stressing total nakedness. This method of sharing out the clothing of captives, which was both simple and practical, may well have been a practise continued through the centuries, although David might have been thinking of it as something that would occur after he had been killed. Stripping the dead after battle was common practise.
It specifically happened to Jesus on His death, and is claimed as the ‘filling full’ of prophecy (John 19.23-24).
So the sufferer turns to YHWH for help. God is his succour and he looks to Him for assistance. This would suggest that what he has described is simply near expectation, rather than what has actually happened, a vivid nightmare of what lay ahead if things did not change quickly. He still hoped to be delivered from the worst.
This is confirmed here by his hope to be delivered from the power of the dog (verse 16). He wants to escape death by a sword and mauling by a dog. ‘My darling’. Literally ‘my only one’. He is thinking of his own unique life which is most precious to him, and dearer to him than almost anything else on earth.
Jesus’ deliverance would be by resurrection.
So he puts in his final plea. Let him be saved from the lion’s mouth. The lion here may well be Saul. And then in the second part of the verse the whole spirit of the psalm changes, as he suddenly recognises that he will be saved indeed. He is about to be delivered from the horns of ‘the wild oxen’ because God has answered him.
Or we may render, ‘save me from the lion’s mouth, yes, from the horns of the wild oxen’ and then with sudden enlightenment - ‘You have answered me.’ Either way it is a switch that declares that God has heard his prayers.
He Comes Out Of His Situation In Triumph Because of The Kingly Rule of God (22.22-31).
The Psalmist now rejoiced in the deliverance of the one about whom he has been speaking. For the result is to be that all the ends of the earth will seek YHWH and His Kingly Rule will be established over the nations. It is clear therefore that in the end the one who is in mind is the coming King who will rule over the everlasting kingdom.
Confident that God has heard him and will deliver him, the Psalmist now declares how he will reveal the full attributes (the significance of ‘Your Name’ - the name was seen as indicating the attributes) of a compassionate God to his brothers in the assembly (LXX - ekklesia, church) of the people. And there also he will praise Him. This verse is cited by the writer to the Hebrews as referring to Jesus (Hebrews 2.12), as He leads His people to glory..
Thus all God’s true people (those who fear Him) are to praise YHWH and glorify Him. They are to stand in awe at what He has done. So the people of Israel are being called on to rejoice in the deliverance of the one being described by the Psalmist, for his deliverance is important to them. And in the same way, having established His new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16.18; John 15.1-6), Jesus will call on His people to praise God for the way that He has come through suffering to triumph, having been made a perfect File Leader through suffering (Hebrews 2.10). No wonder the women were filled with awe at learning of His resurrection (Mark 16.8).
And the reason for the praise and worship is that YHWH has not turned away from his deep affliction, nor has He hid His face from him (He had not forsaken him), so that the cry of the one of whom the Psalmist speaks was heard, and answered. The idea of ‘affliction’ is applied both the Servant in Isaiah 53.4, 7 and the Messianic king of Zechariah 9.9. The pattern is clear. God’s purposes are fulfilled through suffering.
And the reason that he can praise YHWH is because the reason for praising and ability to praise have come from Him. He is the source of the praise issuing from the one of whom the Psalmist is speaking, and its end. And the result is that he can praise Him in the great assembly and fulfil the vows that he has made while in distress, performing them in front of all who truly fear Him (compare Hebrews 10.7, 9).
And the consequence of the triumph of this one who has suffered will be that the poor and meek who truly seek after YHWH will eat of the votive offering (the paying of the vows of verse 25) and be satisfied, for they will be his guests. They will rejoice in the means of atonement and worship. This gains even more meaning in the light of John 6.35 ff. They will partake of Him through faith.
‘Let your heart live for ever.’ And the result is that he can call on God to enable them to live for ever. He offers them the equivalent of eternal life.
And this is not only for the poor of Israel, it is also for the Gentiles. All the ends of the earth will call to mind the suffering and dedication of the one who has suffered, and will turn to YHWH, and all the families of the nations (compare Genesis 12.3;28.14) will worship before YHWH. Through the seed of Abraham the nations will be blessed, and will come to know YHWH.
And this will be because they will acknowledge His Kingly Rule, for the Kingly Rule is YHWH’s and He is the ruler over the nations. Here we have the initial idea of the coming Kingly Rule of God (tou kuriou he basileia - ‘the Kingly Rule of the Lord’), which all who respond will acknowledge.
And the result of the suffering of the one of whom the Psalmist is speaking and the rejoicing over His deliverance will be that those who are in full life (the fat ones of the earth) and those who are dying or dead (those who go down to the dust), will both partake of His sacrificial offering, and will worship and bow before Him, even those who cannot avoid death. The living and the dead will praise Him. While the idea of resurrection is not spelled out, as it was unlikely to be in those days, there is the clear indication that he will somehow benefit both. Every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will swear (Isaiah 45.23).
And the result of this will go on from generation to generation. Each generation will be told what the Lord has done.
And the further result will be that God’s righteousness as revealed in this deliverance will be declared into the future, to those not yet born, so wonderful will have been the deliverance. All will declare that ‘He has done it’.
We have already seen that there is a Messianic basis in this Psalm. It is so expressive of what Jesus suffered for us that we should possibly meditate on what it can tell us about His sufferings for us. In doing so we will see how wonderfully God prepared the way for the death of His Son.
22.1 ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from helping Me, and from the words of My loud groaning?’
These words were cited by Jesus on the cross. But we cannot see it as merely signifying that Jesus was taking comfort from the Psalm. It was rather because (if we may say it reverently) He had come to a new understanding of what the Psalmist was describing. From the torment of His soul as He bore on Himself the sins of the world He was aware of a sense of total desolation and torment, a sense of total isolation from His Father, and it came out in this cry. He felt that in His cry He had to pierce through the darkness, because He felt ‘God forsaken’. As has been well said, ‘God forsaken by God, who can understand it?’
He was not, of course, forsaken. He could still speak to MY God. And the very fact of His praying was a recognition of the fact that God was within hearing, even though appearing to be terribly far away. It rather therefore expressed the agony that He was facing, and the burden that He was bearing. It was the only prayer that Jesus ever made that He did not address to God as ‘Father’. Even in the agony of the Garden He had prayed ‘Abba, Father’. But now in the darkness of His soul, tormented by the sin of the world, He came as a suppliant to God, rather than as a Son to the Father. And for Him there was a genuine and very real sense of separation. In these moments He knew the awful intensity of the work that He had come to do, and the price that He had come to pay. He was taking on Himself all the agony deserved by mankind.
22.2 ‘Oh My God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer, and in the night season, and am not silent.’
For the first time in His life Jesus had become aware of what to us is commonplace, the sense of separation from the Father. He had become aware of what it meant to pray knowing that there seemed to be no response. Never before had He prayed and faced this stony silence. It is no wonder that He found it unnerving. But there was a sense in which He had to bear the burden alone, for He was dying in His humanness, and the Father had no humanness. So both through the hours of light until midday, and then through the following hours of darkness, His cry continued. Even at this final hour He was not silent, but His Father was. The heavens were seemingly closed to His plea. But let us not overlook the fact that Heaven too was distraught. The angels could not bear the sight. And yet the Father held back His comfort from His Son, in order that His Son might bear our sin to the full. For He could not condone the sin that He was bearing (the sin that was our sin). This was the cup that Jesus had chosen to drink, and He had to drink it alone.
22.3-5 ‘But You are holy, O You Who inhabits the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You. They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered. They trusted in You, and were not put to shame.’
At no stage did Jesus lose confidence in the Father as the Deliverer of Israel. Even on the cross He could declare God’s faithfulness to His people, despite the fact that He Himself was unheard. For God was surrounded by the praises of Israel because of what He had done for them. They had trusted and had been delivered. They had cried and they had been delivered. They had trusted in Him and had not needed to be ashamed of the fact, because God had answered them. That was why He could reach out to the dying brigand. But it made Him also aware of how much this was not happening for Him. For Him no prayer for deliverance would be heard. No cry would be heeded. He must tread the way of suffering alone, for there was no other way.
22.6 ‘But I am a worm, and no man. A reproach of men, and despised of the people.’
He recognised that He had taken the position of the lowest of the low. He had become a worm, not a man, helpless and there to be kicked, and trodden on, and crushed under the heel. He was taking on Himself the reproaches of His people (Isaiah 41.14), and thus He had become as one who was reproached by men, and was despised by the very people whom He had come to save. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of Sorrows, humiliated by grief, One from Whom men hid their faces, because He had lost all esteem in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53.3).
22.7-8 ‘All they who see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “Commit Yourself to YHWH. Let Him deliver Him. Let Him rescue Him, seeing He delights in Him.”
Those who gathered round His cross were full of mocking They all laughed Him to scorn. He had claimed to be the chosen of God. Let God then deliver Him if He would. They cried, ‘Ha, You Who will destroy the Temple, and build it in three days, if You are the Son of God, save Yourself and come down from the cross. He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe. He trusted in God. Let Him deliver Him now if He delights in Him” (Matthew 27.40-42; Mark 15.29-32). In these words they had this Psalm in mind and were parodying the very thoughts it contained. He had set Himself forward as the One spoken of by the Psalmist, so in their eyes the words unquestionably applied to Him, though not in truth.
22.9-10 ‘But You are He who took me out of the womb. You made me trust when I was on my mother’s breasts. I was cast on you from the womb. You are my God since my mother bore me.’
Yet in it all He could not forget that it was God Who had brought Him forth from the womb. God had taught Him to trust even as He was breast fed by His mother. God had as it were breast fed Him too. Right from the womb He had trusted Him. How then could He fail Him now?
22.11 ‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’
So in His extremity He cried that God would not be too far from Him. For He was aware of what He must face, and that there was no one else to whom He could go for help. Chronologically this comes before verse 1. And for a time the help was there until the darkness of the sin of the world descended. And then it seemed as though it had gone.
22.12 ‘Many bulls have surrounded me, strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gape at Me with their mouth, like a ravening and a roaring lion.’
He knew what had brought Him there. During His last days He had been crowded in as though by a herd of bulls which had threatened and surrounded Him, as the Chief Priests and Scribes had hemmed Him in. And now there they were, gaping at Him with their mouths, and as they stood there at the cross, they were surrounding Him on every side, as though they were hungry lions, determined to consume Him.
22.14 ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it is melted within me.’
The inevitable effects of crucifixion were having their effect. His body was being weakened as the blood poured from His many wounds like water, and as His body was twisted and stretched by the cross, His bones became distorted and out of joint, while His heart within Him was like melted wax, as a result of His sufferings, and at the awfulness of the burden of sin that He faced.
22.15 ‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws, and You have brought me into the dust of death.’
His body had been toughened by His manner of life, but now all His strength had flowed out of Him. On top of the other pain, the hot sun had dried Him out, as the sweat had poured from His body, so that He was like a pot which had been fashioned in the fire and which had had all the moisture removed from it, leaving it dried and cracked, while His tongue stuck to His dried out mouth, as lingering death slowly took possession of Him. The One Who was the Lord of life was conscious that His body would shortly be brought to dust through death, a contradiction to His very nature.
22.16 ‘For dogs have surrounded Me. A company of evildoers have enclosed Me. They pierced my hands and my feet.’
But His trials continued. Having obtained that they wanted, His opponents were now gathered round Him like a pack of snarling dogs, and He felt enclosed by the soldiers of Rome who had driven nails through His hands and feet. But the ones who were really responsible for the nails were the ones who watched and sneered, and you and I.
22.17 ‘I may count all my bones. They look and stare at me.’
His hours on the cross, by distorting His whole body as a consequence of the unnatural strain exerted on it, resulted in His bones thrusting themselves up under His skin, so that every bone could be counted, and meanwhile the spectators stared at His naked body and gazed at Him with astonishment.
22.18 ‘They part my garments among them, and for My robe they cast lots.
Meanwhile as He hung there, the soldiers gambled heartlessly at His feet, dividing up His clothing, and casting lots for His seamless robe. As far as they were concerned He was as good as dead, and His clothes were their perquisites. They took another swig of wine. They were half drunk. It was a good thing to be half drunk when you carried out a crucifixion. It deadened the awfulness of what you were doing. And to them He was just another victim.
22.19 ‘But do not be far off, Oh YHWH. Oh You Who are my succour, hurry to my aid.’
As the long hours passed, and the battles with evil and sin continued, He cried that God might not be far off but might hurry to help Him. The hours of darkness seemed so long, the battle with the forces of evil so powerful, and He felt in desperate need of succour. He knew that He must see it through to the end, but now He was thinking beyond the end, when He could say ‘it is finished’, and relief would come.
22.20-21 ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth, yes, from the horns of the wild-oxen You have answered me.’
A victim of the sword of Rome, and the dogs of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, He cries to be delivered from them both, as though from the mouth of lions, or from the horns of the wild ox. (In Numbers 24.8, 9 it is Israel who are the lion and the wild ox). Once He had endured let God save Him and deliver Him. And He was confident that it would be so, for He could finally declare, ‘You have answered Me’. And thus on the note of final deliverance the Psalm leads on into the aftermath.
Following the cross will come the resurrection, and resulting from the resurrection will come His testimony to His ‘brothers’, who will be brought to fear the Lord and glorify Him. The poor and humble will find joy in His Kingly Rule, while the nations worldwide will turn to God and worship Him.
22. 22 ‘I will declare Your name to my brothers. In the midst of the gathering will I praise You.’
He assures His Father that He will make Him fully known (will make ‘His name’, the essence of what He is, known) to ‘His brothers’, to those who gather together in His Name. This verse is cited in Hebrews 2.12 in a context where He is also described as the wagon boss of their faith. He will go forward together with His brothers, encouraging them to worship God, and He will be ever among them (Matthew 18.20). Compare, ‘lo I am with you always’ (Matthew 28.20).
22.23 ‘You who fear YHWH, praise Him. All you, the seed of Jacob, glorify Him. And stand in awe of Him, all you the seed of Israel.’
And in fulfilment of His promise He calls on all who fear YHWH to praise Him, and all ‘the seed of Jacob/Israel’ (representing God’s true people) to glorify Him and stand in awe of Him. Note the close connection with ideas in Isaiah 41-49 where the seeds of Jacob and Israel are constantly in mind, are closely connected with the Servant, and are to be restored. Now the Servant will fulfil His promised ministry to them (Isaiah 49.6).
22.24 ‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, nor has He hid His face from Him. But when He cried to Him, He heard.’
And the reason why they are to praise God is because He has not despised or turned away from the deep afflictions of the Afflicted One. Rather when He had cried from the extremities of His soul, God had heard Him. This was in deep contrast to what men had done earlier (verses 6-8).
22.25 ‘From You comes My praise in the great assembly, I will pay my vows before those who fear Him.’
Indeed it is from Him, as a result of His working, that Jesus can praise Him among His people. For Jesus has offered Himself up as an acceptable freewill offering (Hebrews 10.1-14) so that He might dispense His blessing on those who fear Him, and now He will act of their behalf. Thus He will fulfil His promises that He has made to God, in the eyes of all who fear Him.
22.26 ‘The meek will eat and be satisfied. They will praise YHWH who seek after Him. Let your heart live for ever.
And the result is that the poor and humble will partake of Him and be satisfied (John 6.35). They will eat and be filled. And those who seek after YHWH will praise Him. In the words of Jesus, ‘blessed ones are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingly Rule of God’ (Matthew 5.3).
22.27 ‘All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to YHWH. And all the families of the nations will worship before You.’
And not only will the poor and needy praise Him, but among the nations to the ends of the earth many will acknowledge His Name. They will remember what the Afflicted One has endured, and turn to YHWH, and some among all the families of the nations will worship YHWH (Genesis 12.3; compare Isaiah 42.6; 49.6).
22.28 ‘For the Kingly Rules is YHWH’s, and He is the ruler over the nations.’
For they will recognise that the Kingly Rule over all things is YHWH’s and that it is He Who rules over the nations. Thus will they ‘enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ at His behest.
22.29 ‘All the fat ones of the earth will eat and worship. All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive.’
In His presence all are equal. Both those who prosper and those who can hardly keep themselves alive and are near death (in other words men of every kind and situation) will look to YHWH for life, partaking of His sacrifice of Himself, and will worship Him.
22.30-31 ‘A seed will serve Him. It will be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness, to a people who will be born, that he has done it.’
And a seed will serve Him, the holy seed of Isaiah 6.13, those who have been refined and have responded to Him and looked for salvation. And they will pass on the truth about the Lord to the next generation, and will declare His righteousness to a people yet unborn. For they will learn that ‘He has done it’.
Here we have one of the most beautiful of Psalms, described as ‘A Psalm to David’, and its very content points to David as its author. It likens YHWH to a shepherd Who watches over His sheep. None knew better the needs of the sheep and the duties of a shepherd than David. Indeed he had experienced them both as a shepherd over his wayward sheep, and as a King over his equally wayward subjects. And here he pictures YHWH as the perfect shepherd Who meets all the needs of His sheep.
The story is told of how at a particular gathering the Psalm was read by a famous actor whose rendering of the Psalm was extolled for its great beauty. Shortly afterwards it was read by a godly Pastor. When the meeting was over the actor, moved by the Pastor’s rendering, approached him and said, ‘Sir, I know the Psalm, but you know the Shepherd’. And that is what is important as we study the Psalm, to know the Shepherd.
‘A Psalm of David.’
The Psalm begins with an ascription to David, and there is no real reason for seeing it as not written by him. He had the reputation of being ‘the sweet Psalmist of Israel’ (2 Samuel 23.1), which confirms that he must have written a good number of Psalms. The mention of ‘the house of YHWH’ in verse 6 is not against this idea, for ‘the house of YHWH is not synonymous with ‘the Temple of YHWH’. Indeed it might seem a better parallel with ‘The Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) of YHWH’. For references to ‘the house of YHWH/God’ prior to the building of the Temple see Exodus 23.19; Judges 18.31; 1 Samuel 1.7. They did not think of a ‘house’ as we do. It rather represented ‘home’ wherever it may be. It is doubtful if David wanted to live in the Temple for ever, even idealistically.
The Psalmist picture himself as walking through life serenely and unafraid because of the One Who watches over Him. It is the idealistic picture of what we ought to be. It is a picture of how Jesus walked. If only we would truly hold on to these words and believe them our lives would be serene in all circumstances, for we would know His care over us at all times, and that even in the valley of the shadow of death we would not need to be afraid. For the point is not that trials and problems will not come, but that when they do the Shepherd will step forward and deal with them.
For this idea of YHWH as shepherd compare 74.1; 77.20; 78.52, 70 ff; 79.13; 80.1;95.7; 100.3; Micah 7.14; Isaiah 40.11. Jesus described Himself as ‘the good (effective, fully responsive) Shepherd’ in contrast with the false shepherds (John 10.11; see also Hebrews 13.20; 1 Peter 2.25).
23.1 ‘YHWH is my shepherd; I shall not want.’
The idea of a shepherd is of one who cares for and watches over his sheep. Kings liked to describe themselves as shepherds of their people when they were feeling sentimental and wanted to give a good impression. They wanted their people to love them and see them as a father figure (however unfatherlike they really were), and their people spoke of them as their shepherd when they wanted to flatter them, and receive some benefit from them. The spiritual leaders of Israel were regularly spoken of as shepherds, although sadly in many cases as failing shepherds. But here we have the Shepherd above all shepherds, the unfailing and compassionate One Whose power is infinite and Who would never fail His sheep. And once He is our Shepherd we can be confident at all times, for the provision of good pasture (compare Matthew 6.32), the protection from all evil, and the sustaining of our souls, then become His responsibility. The problem lies in our unwillingness to trust Him.
‘I shall not want.’ This does not mean that He will provide for the fulfilment of all our desires. It means that He will ‘withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly’ (84.11). We can compare how He was able to say to Israel when they had wandered in the wilderness, ‘’you have lacked nothing’ (Deuteronomy 2.7). It is a reminder that He will make full provision for whatever He sees that we need. If therefore we find ourselves ‘wanting’ we should recognise that it is not because He has failed, but because our Shepherd knows that it is good for us, and we should therefore be content (compare 34.10; 84.11).
23.2 ‘He makes me to lie down in pastures of luscious grass, He leads me beside the waters of rest.’
The oriental shepherd goes ahead of his sheep, seeking out good pasturage for them. And once he finds it he brings his sheep to rest that they may enjoy it. They are enabled to lie down in ‘pastures of luscious grass’. There, feeding safely and well, they can settle down fully content with his provision. This picture of the shepherd causing his sheep to lie down was used by Jeremiah in his prison cell as a picture of the future restoration of Israel (Jeremiah 33.12). It is a reminder of the Lord’s continual and full provision for His own. Compare here also Ezekiel 34.13-16 which describes what the Shepherd God will do for His people.
And when they are thirsty, He leads them to the waters of rest where they can drink to their full without fear. The idea behind ‘leading’ is of ‘gentle guidance’. Compare Isaiah 40.11, ‘He will gently lead those who are with young’. The ‘waters of rest’ will result in sheep which are fully satiated and at peace. They are conscious that all their needs have been supplied. The same idea is contained in the idyllistic picture of Paradise, ‘they will hunger no more, nor thirst any more, nor will the sun strike on them or any heat’ (Revelation 7.16). It is also found in Isaiah 49.10 from which Revelation 7.16 is taken, and which then adds ‘He Who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them’. But Isaiah has in mind more the blessings of the coming of the Messiah. However, the difference in this Psalm is that this is promised even in David’s time as a present experience. It is to be the continual experience of those who love Him, who are to experience relaxation and full contentment in the presence of God, for ‘in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength’ (Isaiah 30.15). As Isaiah says elsewhere, within His purposes ‘My people will live continually in a peaceable habitation, and in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places’ (Isaiah 32.18).
23.3 ‘He restores my soul (inner life). He guides me in the right paths (the paths of righteousness) for his name’s sake.’
Having been led to the pastures of luscious grass, and the rest-giving waters, the sheep are fully restored. In the same way can we be sure that He will continually ‘restore our inner lives’. Whatever the trials that beset us He will bring us through to perfect peace with our strength restored. We will be restored to full equilibrium. And this restoration will then be maintained because He will guide us in the paths of righteousness (compare Proverbs 8.20). He will not only lead us in the right way so that we do not get lost, but He will lead us in the way of rightness. There can be no peace without this. These are the paths where our feet do not slip (17.5). They are the way of wisdom, the paths of uprightness, where our ways will not be hindered, and where we can run without stumbling (Proverbs 4.11). It is important to recognise this requirement for His sheep, if they would be at rest. They cannot just go their own way, they must follow the Shepherd in His ways. For in the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death (Proverbs 12.28).
And He guides us in these ways, ‘for His Name’s sake’. Note the idea of sovereignty. He guides them inexorably in these ways because He is concerned for His reputation and His purposes and wants them to be maintained by His people in order that He might be glorified. (Compare Isaiah 63.14). And He does it because of the kind of Being that He is. He does it in order to reveal that He is such that He can do no other. By it He is revealing precisely Who and What He is, the Righteous One Who upholds righteousness in all who seek righteousness.
23.4 ‘Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’
In the seemingly calm and peaceful mountains of Israel danger ever threatened. There were hidden deep ravines where wild beasts lurked, or into which wayward sheep could fall. The lion and the bear and the wolf were ever ready to tear the heart out of the flock. But the sheep who remain close to the Shepherd have no need to be afraid. When the lion or the bear suddenly arise from their hiding place, the Shepherd will seize them by the beard, and smite them and slay them (see 1 Samuel 17.34-35). And those who walk close in His footsteps will avoid the treacherous ravines. Their ways may lie in the valley where death lurks, and they may constantly be under its shadow, but they do not need to be afraid, for the Lord of life is with them. Thus can they say, ‘I will fear no evil, because You are with me’.
‘The valley of the shadow of death.’ This translation was obtained by pointing (putting consonants into) zlmwth and making it zalmaweth. But it could equally well be made into zalmuth (a dark shadow), treating the waw as an ancient vowel. But the meaning is little different apart from the fact that the actual mention of death seems to be slightly ill fitting. On the other hand the shadows certainly did threaten death.
And one reason for their sense of total security is His mighty club and great staff, in the latter case to assist the sheep that have got themselves into trouble in some hidden crevice, lifting them out to safety, and in the former case to drive off the enemies that come against them. ‘They will never perish, and none shall pluck them from MY hand’ (John 10.28). They have seen them many times in action and they know how powerful they are. For the effectiveness of such a rod see 2 Samuel 23.21; Psalm 2.9; Micah 7.14.
23.5 ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed my head with oil. My cup runs over.’
This idea of His full provision now turns the Psalmist’s thoughts to a great feast. Jesus regularly depicted what He had come to offer in terms of a great feast. Here the table was prepared, like the good pasturage for the sheep, and it was laden with good things. Even when surrounded by their enemies His people can feast at His table. For the Shepherd watches over them to protect them. There are already echoes here of the coming Messianic feast.
And they eat in comfort and luxuriously, the sweat of the hills forgotten, for He anoints their heads with oils and perfumes, and He ensures that their cups are full and overflowing. The perfumes are the perfumes of Arabia (1 Kings 10.15), and there is no stinting when it is He Who pours out the wine (compare 36.8). ‘I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly’ (John 10.10). Thus do they feast at the King’s table (2 Samuel 9.7). And this is not just some future hope, although it is that, but is intended to be enjoyed in the present. For He has provided us with His word and the means of entry into His presence (Hebrews 10.19-20), as He had David (Deuteronomy 17.18-19), and we can constantly feast at His table, even in the darkest circumstances.
23.6 ‘Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of YHWH for ever.’
And accompanying the shepherd are His two faithful ‘sheepdogs’, ‘Goodness’’ and ‘Lovingkindness’. Their names reveal the very heart of the Shepherd. For His people are continually trailed by goodness and lovingkindness, on the one hand full provision for their spiritual needs (how much more will your Heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him - Matthew 7.11) and on the other fullness of compassion in the way (‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ - Jeremiah 31.3; ‘in this is love, not that we love Him, but that He loved us, and that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ - 1 John 4.10). This ensures that they walk in wholesome ways, where their Shepherd can be found, and where goodness and lovingkindness can be found, and where they can be sure of His tenderness towards them even when they fail.
This indeed is the test of whether they are His sheep. They walk in conjunction with goodness and lovingkindness. Many love the idea of being trailed by lovingkindness, but they are not so sure about goodness. They certainly want to be loved, and they do not mind being average, but they do not want to be good (they speak of such people derisively as do-gooders’). But God is good, and He expects goodness from His people, for He knows that without true goodness they can never be really happy. They are to let their light so shine before men, that they see their good works and glorify their Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16).
‘And I will dwell in the house of YHWH for ever.’ This is not to switch his thoughts directly to the Temple or Tabernacle, even though the latter might be in the background of his thoughts as the sacred Dwellingplace of YHWH. He visualises rather the house of feasting as previously described. It is YHWH’s house where the banquet is ever in progress, comparable, though on a larger scale, with the king’s palace. And there will His people feast with Him for ever, both in this world and the next. (In Israel feasting around the Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) of YHWH was a feature of the major feasts, even for many who could not actually enter the Tabernacle. They too felt that they had ‘entered the house of YHWH’). As the Psalmist says elsewhere, ‘They will be abundantly satisfied with the luxurious provision of Your house, and You will make them drink of the rivers of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life, in Your light shall we see life’ (36.8-9). ‘For ever.’ It is true that this can mean simply ‘into the distant future’. But that is the point. As in Psalm 16 he cannot visualise a time when he is separated from YHWH. Such a thought seems impossible to him. For in the end he carries within himself the thought of immortality, he has everlastingness in his heart (Isaiah 57.15; Ecclesiastes 3.11 - ‘He has set eternity (‘owlam) in his heart’).
In a sense this may well have been a propaganda Psalm, although with a very spiritual (and political) purpose in view. For David, having captured Jerusalem and having made it his capital (2 Samuel 5.9), erected a tent there which was to house the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH (2 Samuel 6.17). His desire was to see the independent city of Jerusalem, which he had captured from the Jebusites with ‘his men’, calling it the City of David (2 Samuel 5.9), accepted as the sacred city of Israel, and looked on as such by both Judah and Israel. In other words he wanted it to be seen by them as the place where YHWH dwelt, even though the Tabernacle (without the Ark) was erected elsewhere (1 Kings 3.4; 8.4). And to that end he provided a no doubt sumptuous tent so that he could bring the Ark in from where it was lying unutilised, (it had been out of sight for many years since its capture and subsequent release by the Philistines twenty years earlier) thus designating Jerusalem as the place where YHWH was enthroned (2 Samuel 6). This may well have been why, in a huge display of pageantry, he sought to fix these ideas in the people’s minds, with this Psalm intended to underpin the whole pageantry. This was the commencement of Israel referring to this mountain by the name Zion (1 Kings 8.1).
The Psalm commences with the fact that YHWH as Creator is Lord over the whole earth and subduer of the seas. It then asks who is fit to ascend the mountain that is to be YHWH’s dwelling place, and provides a detailed answer which reveals the high moral tone of Israel. After this it calls on the great gates of the city to open up so that YHWH may enter in triumph as the One Who is mighty in battle, for He has not only enabled the capture of the city (2 Samuel 5.6-9), but has also accomplished the defeat of the powerful Philistines (2 Samuel 5.17-25).
The Psalm splits up into parts, and it is probable that, as happens in other Psalms, different groups of singers were to sing different parts. Thus verse 1-2 may have been sung generally, followed by a group accompanying those who were bearing the Ark on its entry into the city singing verses 3-5 (or one group may have sung verse 3 with another group replying in verses 4-5), this being followed by a general response being made in verse 6. After that the group bearing the Ark calls on the gates to be opened in verse 7, with another group responding by asking the question in verse 8a, followed by the first group then giving the reply in verse 8b. We may then see the same process being repeated in verses 9-10, at which point the gates would be ceremonially opened and the Ark would enter and be set down in the Tent erected for it higher up the mountain, thereby demonstrating that YHWH had made the city and mountain His own.
We can compare this entry of the Ark into the city with how the Ark went before Israel on its journeying, and was each time set down within the newly erected Tabernacle, so as to demonstrate that YHWH was journeying with His people and going before them in the way (Numbers 10.33-36) with the purpose of seeking out a resting place for them. In the same way, having brought the Ark into Jerusalem in the first flush of their recent victories David clearly hoped that, as a result, they would from now on see a Jerusalem containing the Ark as evidence that YHWH had found a resting place for them with the independent Jerusalem as its capital. By doing so he hoped to remove all jealousy between Judah and Israel as to which should house the Dwellingplace of YHWH and at the same time made Jerusalem his own unique power base. One result of this was that he would take over the priesthood of Melchizedek, which was the ancient priesthood of Jerusalem (Genesis 14.18), submitting it to YHWH and incorporating it as a non-sacrificial, intercessory priesthood within the cult of Israel (Psalm 110.4).
The ceremony which celebrated the entry of the Ark might well then have been repeated annually at one of the great feasts. It would have especially suited the Feast of Tabernacles which, as ending the old year and bringing in the new, was associated with creation, kingship and victory. In this regard the significance of the Psalm would alter to indicate more generally YHWH’s triumph as the King of creation, and the Lord of battle. It might have gone thus:
Following on its use at the first introducing of the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH into Jerusalem, the Psalm would continue in use at the festal gatherings, and may well have been used at an annual repetition of the occasion. It is the significance of this on which we will now concentrate as we consider its permanent message.
‘A Psalm of David.’
This heading indicates that it is a Psalm connected with the house of David, either because it was written by him or one of his descendants, or because it was written concerning them.
The Glory of YHWH (24.1b-2).
Note the continual parallelisms throughout the Psalm where the second statement repeats the idea of the first in a different way, typical of Hebrew poetry.
The initial verses make clear that YHWH, the One who is to seek entry into Jerusalem, is the Creator of the whole earth, Who therefore possesses it by right, together with everything that is in it, including the peoples (its fullness, and those who dwell in it). In the Hebrew YHWH in verse 1 is emphatic, ‘To YHWH belongs the earth’, as is ‘He in verse 2. This vision of universality fits well with the ideas of worldwideness prevalent in David’s day, as evidenced by Psalm 2, where the expectation was that one day his descendants would rule the nations with a rod of iron, nations who were meanwhile seen as helpless before him because YHWH was with him and he was YHWH’s anointed. Compare also Exodus 19.5, ‘all the earth is Mine’; Deuteronomy 10.14, ‘to YHWH your God belongs the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all that is within it’; Psalm 50.12, ‘every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills’; Psalm 89.11, ‘the heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours, the world and its fullness You have founded them’.
And this world is seen as ‘founded’ (established securely) on the seas and the water sources that were under the ground, which regularly caused flooding (compare Psalm 33.7) but were controlled by YHWH, ‘you have set a bound that they may not pass, that they turn not again to cover the earth’ (Psalm 104.9). We are not to see this as a pseudo-scientific explanation of the world, (Israel were not into scientific investigation), but as a description based on observation (just as we speak of the sun going down) and on the records in Genesis 1.6-9. There too the earth came up out of the waters, and was established above them. And whenever they went to the edge of the seas and looked in they could see the earth going down to its foundations in the seas. So that is how they described it.
But they did not see the earth as simply resting on the waters, for they described YHWH as the One Who ‘laid the foundation of the earth that it should not be moved for ever’. He ‘covered it with the deep as with an undergarment, the waters stood above the mountains’, after which ‘at His rebuke they fled, at the voice of His thunder they hurried away, they went up by the mountains, they went down by the valleys, to the place which He had founded for them’. So the waters themselves were seen as established on solid earth, with dry land arising from them, and thus established upon them.
The major emphasis being brought out is that the earth on which men lived has been established by YHWH in the midst of the powerful and hostile seas which are, however, under YHWH’s total control (Job 38.11), and over the waters that are under the ground as revealed, for example, by the springs that poured forth water in abundance (‘the water under the earth’ - Exodus 20.4). The earth is firm and secure under His control, and all within it is His. All is thus submissive to His will, and man is kept safe within it, for floods will never again be allowed to destroy mankind (Genesis 9.11).
It is this Creator God Who will seek to enter Zion, the new city of David, and establish His dwelling in the holy mount.
Who May Enter The Holy Place Of YHWH? (24.3-6)
But now having considered the greatness of YHWH an important question arises. Who is fitted to ascend into the place where this powerful Creator and Sustainer of the world will make His earthly dwellingplace? And especially who will be able to face up to His holiness, His total purity and ‘otherness’, and stand his ground before Him (compare 1.5) in that holy place. The thought is not of the Holy Place within the Tabernacle, for the Tabernacle was not yet there, but of the whole mountain seen as a holy place. (‘Holy place’ parallels ‘the hill of YHWH’). It is thus referring to the holy hill of YHWH, that is the holy hill of Zion (see 2.6; 3.4; 15.1; 43.3; Isaiah 2.2-3). At this stage ‘Zion’ is limited to the one mountain, later the name will expand to cover all Jerusalem, and then be used as a synonym for the inhabitants of Jerusalem (e.g. Zechariah 2.7). And the question is as to who is fitted to ascend and enter there so as to meet with YHWH. By this he was establishing central Jerusalem (the one time Jebusite fortress on what would be the Temple mount) as ‘the holy city’ (Isaiah 48.2; 52.1), a description which would gradually spread to include its environs. See here Judges 1.8, 21; where outer Jerusalem was settled by Judah and Benjamin, who were, however, unable to capture the Jebusite stronghold and the hill now taken by David, which has now here become ‘the hill of YHWH’. It was, however, a place full of sacred associations for Israel, for it was from there that the priest of the Most High God (El Elyon) had brought sustenance to their forefather Abraham and his men (Genesis 14.18-20), and had received tithes from him, at which Abraham had declared that YHWH was God Most High. Thus this was already the hill of YHWH, and had simply been awaiting His possession of it.
‘Who will ascend.’ The idea of ascending is regularly associated with worship (1 Samuel 1.3, 22; Isaiah 2.3; 37.14; 38.22).
For us, however, there is a new and even greater vision of Jerusalem because in the New Testament the true Jerusalem is now seen as being in Heaven where our Lord Jesus Christ is established on His throne (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22; and continually in Revelation) among His glorified people (Hebrews 12.23; Revelation 14.1). For in the end Jerusalem is a concept and not a place. It is the place where YHWH is seen as enthroned. The last thing that we can do is limit God to a piece of ground. Ezekiel saw this when he declared that the idealistic heavenly Temple was on a high mountain away from Jerusalem.
The question as to who is fitted to ascend into the hill of YHWH, the place where YHWH is to dwell, is now answered. It is those who are clean and pure, and this not just in ritual terms, but in terms of true purity of heart and life. It is those who are fulfilling the covenant that YHWH has made with them.
To have clean hands and a pure heart, is to have rid the hands and heart of all impurity by turning from sin and offering the appropriate sacrifice, having made any necessary compensation (Leviticus 1-7), thus being brought back into a state of full obedience to the Law, combined with having been rid of all ‘uncleanness’ in the ways prescribed in the Law (Leviticus 11-15), all as epitomised in the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). We can compare here 18.20, 24 where to have clean hands is to be righteous. In Christian terms it is to have admitted our sins, bringing them to God and finding cleansing in the blood of Jesus, so that He might justly forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.7-9).
‘Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully.’ This may be succintly describing obedience to the Law in terms of total honesty before the judges of Israel, and the Great Judge Himself, or the idea may be of obedience to the covenant, with all its requirements, which Israel had sworn to keep (Exodus 24.3 along with its context; 19.5-8; Deuteronomy 6.13; 10.20). It is a reminder to us that we must deal honestly with God, and keep the promises that we have made to Him. This does of course include honesty towards our fellowmen, but its main emphasis is on honesty before God and obedience to His will, although in fact the two cannot be separated in practise, for to be honest towards God involves being honest to each other (see Matthew 5.23-24).
To ‘lift up the soul’ is to ‘set one’s mind and will on’ (20.25; 25.1; Deuteronomy 24.15). ‘Falsehood.’ The word can indicate what is vain and empty (Job 15.31), what is false and hypocritical (12.2), or what is basically wrong (Isaiah 5.18). Here, paralleled as it is with deceitfulness, it therefore tends towards signifying all that is false.
‘He will receive a blessing from YHWH, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.’ And it is the one who is true to His covenant and His commands, who will receive blessing from YHWH and righteous dealings from their saving God. Included in the idea of righteous dealings is the righteousness imputed to them because of their genuinely offered sacrifices, which are a part of His saving plan. But it also includes His righteous dealings in all that is to do with them, including deliverance from all who hate them. Such are YHWH’s blessings.
For us it is a reminder that having received righteousness once for all in Jesus Christ, we can only enjoy the full benefits of that righteousness by responding in righteousness in our lives. Thus, and thus only, can we be sure of a welcome when we go into God’s presence. ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart YHWH will not hear me’ (Psalm 66.18). Only the one who comes with a true and open heart can expect to be received.
The whole people then respond that they are the generation who are truly seeking after Him, who are seeking the face of the God Who is there as the God of their father Jacob. He is addressed as Jacob because He represents all that Jacob stood for, and worshipped, and because He is the God of Jacob, and their obedience is to Him through Jacob. He is addressed as Jacob as the One to Whom Jacob pointed, and in Him Jacob still calls for their obedience. (Some, however, translate as ‘even Jacob’ signifying that they are, as ‘Jacob’, seeking His face).
Or ‘this is the generation’ may signify ‘this is the specific type of person’ with reference to the previous description (compare 12.7; 14.5; 73.15).
‘Who seek after Him, who seek Your face --.’ Two words are used for seek, both having a similar meaning. The idea is of the seeking of the inner heart. But the first may be seen as tending towards loving devotion, and the second as indicating more a petitioning heart.
‘Selah.’ A musical pause, probably also suggesting, ‘pause and think of that’.
The Call To Let YHWH Enter His Holy City, Bringing About A Revelation Of Who He Is (24.7-10).
The call now goes out that YHWH might enter in and take possession of what has been His from ancient times. For from of old it had been the city of the Most High God, Who was clearly identified as YHWH, both by its own priest from ancient times (who identified God Most High as Abraham’s God), and by Abraham specifically (Genesis 14.18-24).
The gates are to ‘lift up their heads’. Comparison with Job 10 15 suggests that this indicates a pride in what is about the happen. The gates can lift up their heads because, although His coming has been delayed, He is here at last. The King of glory will pass through the gates of Zion to His new dwelling place on the mount.
Note the emphasis on the ancientness of the city. All Israel knew of Salem as the place from which in the distant past blessing had come to Abraham, and to whose king-priest Abraham had paid his dues because he was the priest of the Most High God. The word ‘olam, often translated everlasting, rather indicates ‘into the ancient past’, or ‘into the far distant future’. It would only later (in the far distant future) come to mean ‘everlasting’. At this time there was no concept of strict everlastingness, except as time without end when looking into the future.
So those ancient gates are now to open in order to admit ‘the King of glory’ as the Ark passes through them. He is seeking His rightful earthly dwelling place. Like his son Solomon, David was aware that ‘even the heaven of heavens could not contain Him’ (1 Kings 8.27), yet he gratefully recognised that YHWH was also pleased to invisibly manifest Himself on earth on His sacred throne, the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH, and would henceforth do so in His holy city, Jerusalem. Note 2 Samuel 6.2 where the Ark of God ‘is called by the Name, even the Name of YHWH of hosts, who sits on the cherubim’ while once the Ark had been captured ‘the glory had departed’ (1 Samuel 4.21-22).
For us the Tabernacle and Temple in which the Ark was housed has been replaced by the people of God as the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16; 2 Corinthians 6.16), and our cry is therefore that the living God, the King of Glory, might enter among us, His people, and subsequently reveal His glory.
The question then comes back, ‘Who is the King of glory?’ Let Him be identified if He is to enter and take possession of His holy city. How can they be sure that He has the right?
The reply is powerful. He is ‘YHWH the Strong and Mighty’, He is ‘YHWH Who has proved Himself mighty in battle’. That is why the usurpers have been turned out of Jerusalem. That is why the Philistines have fled before David. That is why the city is His. And all this is further evidenced by their past history, written in their sacred writings, which reveal how He has delivered His people again and again, commencing with the defeat of mighty Egypt, and continuing with all that followed. So let them recognise that it is the Strong One and the Mighty One, the Great Victor, Who seeks to enter in.
We can compare for this the words of Exodus 15.2, 3, 18, ‘YHWH is my strength and my song, and He is become my deliverance’ --- ‘YHWH is a man of war, YHWH is His Name’ --- ‘YHWH will reign for ever’. Here then parallel ideas are proclaimed in proclamation of a new deliverance.
For us this is a reminder that our God is strong and well able to fight our battles and protect us, and that our Redeemer came as the mighty One in order to deliver us through His cross (Isaiah 59.16-20), and as the King of glory.
Again the call comes. Let the ancient gates be opened that the King of glory might enter. The point is being emphasised by repetition. The required twofold witness must be given.
Again the question comes back, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ But possibly this time we are to understand a request for more information about this Mighty One Who is about to enter. Who and What is He?
And now is given the decisive reply, it is ‘YHWH of hosts, He is the King of glory’. YHWH of hosts is a comprehensive title. It includes the thought that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of the sun, moon and stars, and of all their host (Genesis 2.1, compare Isaiah 24.3), and of the heavenly beings (148.2; 1 Kings 22.19). And it also includes the thought that He is the Lord of the hosts of Israel (Joshua 5.14; 1 Samuel 17.45; and often). He is thus the One Who has all power in heaven and on earth, and Who is over all. He is the One Who leads forward His people to victory. He is the Almighty. He is truly the King of glory.
‘Selah.’ Again a musical notation probably suggesting, ‘pause and think of that’.
We may see also on this Psalm a picture of Jesus making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when, as Creator of heaven and earth, He entered Jerusalem as its King to approach the Temple mount, offering Himself to a world who would not receive Him. And it is even more a picture of His even more triumphal entry into Heaven after His resurrection, when He ascended and entered the new Jerusalem, ascending the heavenly Mount Zion (Hebrews 12.22) in order to receive His crown. But how different were the welcomes of earth and Heaven.
Initially we have here the declaration of the great power of the Creator. And this we know was the power of the One Who was about to seek entry into Jerusalem. For it was from a position of such power that He came among us as a man upon earth. ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1.3). For He ‘is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things have been created through Him and to Him, and by Him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1.15-17). He is the One ‘by Whom also He made the worlds, Who being the outshining of His glory and the stamped out image of His substance, and upholding all things by His word of power --’ (Hebrews 1.3). This was the One Who sought to enter Jerusalem in humility on an asses colt as its King, and Who in return was spurned, rejected and crucified.
But rising again He sought again to enter Jerusalem, but this time it was the heavenly Jerusalem, and in this case the angels waved their palm branches in welcome, and the Lord of the heavenly Temple bid Him welcome. He was not wanted on earth, but Heaven had waited for this moment.
As Jesus rode onwards into Jerusalem we can here the question from those who stand by. ‘Who can ascend into the hill of the Lord, and Who will stand in His holy place?.’ And the reply comes, ‘He Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’ (Isaiah 53.9; 1 Peter 2.22), ‘Who when He was reviled, did not revile again, Who when He suffered did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously’ (1 Peter 2.23). ‘He Who knew no sin’ (1 Corinthians 5.21). ‘He Who was tempted in all points like we are, and yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15). He Whose hands were clean and Whose heart was pure, Who had not lifted up His soul to falsehood and deceit, and had not sworn deceitfully.’ This is the One Who will receive the blessing of YHWH. But He needed to receive no righteousness, for He was righteous through and through, and He Himself was the God of salvation. Yet in spite of that He had no welcome on earth, for they could not bear the way that His life shone out. And so they consigned Him to the cross.
But, once He was risen, how different was the story for as He rode towards the heavenly Jerusalem the angels ran to meet Him and bid Him welcome, rejoicing in His sinlessness which He had retained in spite of His sojourn among the cesspits of humanity, and the Lord of Glory Himself came forward to receive Him personally and welcome back His Son, and sat Him at His Own right hand far above all.
For here was the perfect example of those who seek Him, of those who seek the God of Jacob. This was the son of Jacob, Who alone among all the sons of Jacob, had sought God truly from the heart. And it was because of this that He would be able to lead many sons of Jacob to glory.
And as Jesus approached the holy mount in Jerusalem on the asses colt the call came from Heaven, ‘lift up your heads O you gates, and be lifted up you everlasting doors. That the King of glory might come in.’ They cried it out as loudly as they could. They could not believe that no one heard, it was so clear to them. But earth was deaf to their cries, and no one opened the doors for Him, and when He entered the Temple He was ignored, and when He cleansed it He was crucified for His pains. The earthly Temple in Jerusalem had no place for the King of glory.
But how different again it was after His resurrection. For as He approached the heavenly city of Jerusalem and the call came for the gates to be opened up, the angels ran and vied to remove the bars, that they might be the first to welcome back the One Who was the Joy of Heaven.
This was the question that with supercilious faces was asked by the chief priests and the scribes and the people of Jerusalem. Who is this man? Whose son is He? Have you not heard what these people are saying about you? But as the angels asked the question it was not because they did not know the answer, but in order that it might ring out to all creation, this is the King of glory.
Had Jerusalem but known it, the One Who entered could have changed the world. But they did not know. The strong and mighty One, mighty in battle was among them and they knew it not. And He would need all of that. For the battle lay ahead and it was against forces that no man could ever have dreamed of. For as He hung on the cross He disarmed the principalities and powers which had for so long held men in darkness, and made an open show of them, triumphing over them in the cross (Colossians 2.15).
And thus when after His resurrection He was welcomed though the gates of the new Jerusalem, it was as the victor leading a host of captives in His train (Ephesians 4.8).
Again the angel cry goes up in order to glorify the Victor. Who is this King of glory Who leads these captives in His train?
And the reply comes, ‘He is YHWH of Hosts (Matthew 28.19; Philippians 2.8-11), He is the King of glory’. The King had returned to the glory that was His before the world was (John 17.5).
This Psalm basically opens each line with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, moving consecutively through the Hebrew alphabet. It does not, however, do this totally consistently for W and Q are omitted and R is repeated where Q would have been. This latter may simply have been because what the writer wanted to say at that point did not provide him with an opportunity to open the line with Q, a word beginning with R providing what he wanted. The final line then repeats P which was used earlier. Interestingly the same phenomenon as this latter occurs in Psalm 34, and there also W is omitted, although Q is included. We have endeavoured to demonstrate this, a little inadequately, with English letters.
One lesson this arrangement brings home to us is that those who wrote the inspired word did it with perspiration as well as inspiration. God worked through their artistic abilities in order to produce His word. Thus they were not just channels, they were active participators. Any view of inspiration that does not take that into account is therefore false.
The Psalm can be divided into three sections, with a postscript.
But there is also a pattern running through it. The opening ideas in verses 1-4 are paralleled by the closing ideas in verses 19-22 (see in the commentary below), while the prayer in verses 5-7, is paralleled in terms of its certain fulfilment because of the nature of God in verses 8-10, and is applied to all God’s people in verses 11-15. It is on the basis of this certainty that he makes his final plea in verses 15-21 (see in the commentary below).
Thus an alternative division is:
Prior to considering it verse by verse we will first give a rendering of the whole Psalm so that the alphabetic sequence and the parallels in each stanza can be observed (the letters are in the order of the Hebrew alphabet).
‘A Psalm of David.’
We will now consider the Psalm in detail.
‘A Psalm of David.’
We have here again an indication that this is one of the Psalms associated with the house of David, and many see it as an indication that David wrote the Psalm, although no indication is given of any particular time in his life to which it might apply. But it is clearly written by someone in his maturity for he refers to the sins of his youth,
A Prayer For Protection And Guidance From YHWH (25.1-7).
In verses 1-2 the Psalmist lifts up His soul to God, and prays that his cause might be upheld, and then in verse 3 he asserts his confidence that God will indeed hear his prayer. This is followed in verses 4-5 by a request to be taught by YHWH because He is his saving God for whom he continually waits, and a plea in verses 6-7 that YHWH will remember His own tender mercies rather than the Psalmist’s sins. Thus it follows the pattern of: dependence on God (1-2), confidence in God (3), a desire to obey God (4-5), and a longing that God will deal with him in mercy rather than in accordance with his past sins (6-7).
The Psalmist’s Initial Plea And Expression Of Confidence That YHWH Will Hear Him (25.1-3).
(The movement of ‘O my God’ to this first stanza is required by the alphabetical arrangement in the Hebrew text. Its use in the opening stanza also fits in with ‘O God’ in the final line of the Psalm, giving a solemn opening and close to the Psalm, with ‘O YHWH’ the more personal covenant Name, being used in the main body of the Psalm (verses 1, 4, 6, 7, 11)).
It is to YHWH that he ‘lifts up’ his inner life (nephesh), recognising that YHWH is his only God. It is to YHWH and His ways that he is committing himself (in contrast to committing himself to vain things, that is, ‘lifting up his soul to vanity’ in 24.4). He is putting YHWH before anything else, offering him his very life, and he wants Him to look on him, to examine his inner life, and to observe his true faith in Him. His greatest concern is that his relationship with his God might be close, and right. How wise we are when we lift up our souls to God, that we might come under His observation.
Note how the initial ideas in these opening verses are paralleled with the closing ideas in the Psalm;
‘To you I lift up my soul’ ------------------- ‘O keep my soul and deliver me’ (verse 20).
‘O my God’ ------------------------------------ ‘O God’ (verse 22).
‘In you have I trusted’ --------------------- ‘for I put my trust in you’ (verse 20).
‘Let me not be put to shame’ ------------- ‘let me not be ashamed’ (verse 20).
‘Let not my enemies triumph over me -- ‘consider my enemies’ (verse 19).
‘None that wait on you will be ashamed’ - ‘for I will wait on you’ (verse 21).
So the Psalmist will end with similar thoughts to those with which he begins. Herein is the essence of the Psalm
He asks YHWH to be aware that he has trusted in Him, when others have looked elsewhere, and on this ground of faith he asks that he not be let down (put to shame) but that YHWH will prevent those who oppose him from triumphing over him. It is a reminder to us that if we have faith in God, and seek God and His Kingly Rule, everything else will be added to us, including His protection, because we will be under His Fatherly care (Matthew 6.33).
Note that the parallel in verse 19 makes clear that the opposition is both fierce and intense. ‘They are many, and they hate me with cruel hatred’. This is a heartfelt plea, not just a general request. Along with the reference to ‘those who deal treacherously’ it may well indicate a time when an anti-YHWH party were conspiring to overthrow his own stress on YHWH as Israel’s God. For having become ‘a priest after the order of Melchizedek’ on his capturing Jerusalem David had subsumed that priesthood to an intercessory role looking to YHWH. But the opposition would not necessarily lie down. It is a reminder to us that we must stand firm for the truth about God, and mot let those who would debase Him from achieving their aims.
Having first committed himself to YHWH he now asserts his full confidence in Him. His prayer was not in doubt but in faith. He wants YHWH to know that he has no doubt of the fact that no one who waits on YHWH will be disappointed. They will not have cause for being ashamed of trusting in Him. Rather it is those who deal treacherously, when there are no real grounds for them to do so, who will be put to shame. This idea of ‘waiting’ in expectancy is repeated in verse 21, ‘let integrity and uprightness preserve me for I wait on you’. So those who wait on Him must do so in total integrity and uprightness (in contrast with the treacherous) if they are to expect a response.
The treacherous are those who deal treacherously with His word. ‘I beheld the treacherous dealers and was grieved, because they observed not your word’ (119.158). They put on an outward show of piety and religion, but they do not really observe God’s instruction. They seek their own ways, and plot against the truth. Compare also Jeremiah 3.20, ‘as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel’. Like faithless wives they have deserted YHWH. We are reminded here of Jesus’ condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees for the same reason (Mark 7.8, 13). How careful we must be that we do not forsake the living God, by allowing a false image of Him to replace what He really is.
And what will be the result of his waiting on YHWH, his looking constantly to YHWH? ‘Those who wait on YHWH will renew their strength, they will mount on wings as eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and will not faint’ (Isaiah 40.31). He will find his inner strength daily renewed. Compare also 130.5, ‘I wait for YHWH and my soul waits, and in His word do I hope. My soul looks for the Lord more than watchmen look for the morning.’ The idea is of an expectant and confident waiting that looks with determined faith to the response that it will receive, and is closely connected with prayer.
A Plea For Guidance For Himself, and that YHWH Will Remember His Covenant Promises And Covenant Love, And That He Will Not Remember His Sins (4-7).
This is the first section in a three stage pattern, the first two stages of which can be illustrated as follows:
Show me Your ways, O YHWH.---------- Good and upright is YHWH.
Teach me Your paths. ---------------------- Therefore will He instruct sinners in the way.’
Guide me in Your truth, ------------------- The meek will He guide in justice,
And teach me. ------------------------------- And the meek will He teach his way
For you are the God of my salvation, ---- All the paths of YHWH are
For You do I wait all the day.
Remember, O YHWH, Your tender mercies, -- lovingkindness and truth
And Your lovingkindness,
for they have been ever of old -- To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
Do not remember the sins of my youth, -- Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
Nor my transgressions (or ‘rebellions’).
According to Your lovingkindness remember you me,
For the sake of Your goodness, O YHWH.’---- For Your name’s sake, O YHWH.
We will now consider it in detail.
The Psalmist knows that if his ‘waiting’ is to result in a successful outcome it must be connected with living in accordance with God’s ways, and walking in His paths, and so he asks that YHWH will show him His ways, and will teach him His paths. For this is his longing, to walk in the way of righteousness, the way of full obedience to YHWH. Compare 27.11, ‘teach me your way, O YHWH, and lead me in a plain path’; 143.8, ‘cause me to know the way in which I should walk’. It is the heart cry of all who truly know God.
‘Show me your ways’ was the prayer of Moses when he was in perplexity and was not clear about the way ahead (Exodus 33.13). And God’s final reply to him was to show him His glory. Once he had experienced His glory he knew that he could trust God in the way ahead, and he did not need to know any more. And for us that glory is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4-6). It is from knowing Jesus more fully in His glory (by meditation on His word and through prayer) that we will know His ways. If we neglect Him, we will soon neglect His ways.
So he prays that YHWH will guide him in His truth and teach him. He wants to know the true way of God. This is important to him because while he knows that God is his saving God, his Saviour, and he is waiting on him for deliverance, he also knows that parallel with God saving him must be his own obedience to His truth. What God is working in him to will and to do of His good pleasure, he must work out with greatest care (Philippians 2.12-13). Total confidence in God must go along with full obedience to His truth. We cannot look to Christ as our Saviour if our desire is not to be guided into His truth.
But the word for ‘truth’ (’emeth) can also mean ‘trustworthiness’, and this translation provides a better parallel to the second line in the stanza.. So it may be that what the Palmist means is ‘let me become more aware of Your total trustworthiness’, thus indicating his desire to have an increasing confidence in God. This would tie in with the fact that he has already prayed in the previous verse that he might be taught His paths, so that he does not need to pray it again. On the other hand we should note verses 9-10 where again the emphasis is on knowing and following God’s ways. Both attitudes are of course necessary for the believer, that of trusting and having confidence in God, and that of obedience to His word. That is what this Psalm makes clear. Note verse 3, and verse 6 concerning having confidence in God, and verse 4 and verses 9-10 about walking in His ways.
But in seeking God with his whole heart the Psalmist is reminded of how he has failed God in the past, and so now he calls on Him to remember that He is a God of tender mercies, a God Whose lovingkindness and ‘covenant love’ has been manifested from of old, even from everlasting. He is the unchanging God (Malachi 3.6) who has drawn him, and has loved him with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 2.2; 31.3). He does not want God to look on whether he is worthy or not, for he knows that he is not. He wants Him to be loving and merciful towards him, in terms of the covenant of love that He had made towards him and towards His people. The word translated ‘lovingkindness’ (chesed) basically means ‘covenant love’. He wants Him to remember that ‘the mercy of YHWH is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him’ (103.17), because He Himself is from everlasting (90.2; 93.2). Then he will be caught up in that everlasting mercy. He will know that ‘the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33.27). In the same way we also must come to our Heavenly Father, and to Jesus Christ our Lord, pointing not to ourselves but to His covenant of mercy towards us established through the cross (Colossians 2.14; Hebrews 8.6-13). We come claiming no merit of our own, but openly admitting our sinfulness, as the Psalmist did, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7).
So he prays that YHWH will not remember the sins of his youth, how he had failed God in the past, nor remember his recent transgressions, but will rather remember him in terms of His loving covenant towards His people, because He is truly good. He throws himself on the goodness and lovingkindness of God. He knows that if that is his hope and his confidence he has nothing to be afraid of. This is something that all of us must do. For this is the evidence of our genuine relationship with Him. Admitting and turning from our sin daily (compare Matthew 6.12), we must daily allow it to drive us to an awareness of the love and compassion of God, knowing that our sin has been wholly dealt with in the cross, and we are now walking in newness of life.
The word for ‘sins’ indicates a missing of the mark, a losing of the way. It expresses an awareness of coming short, an awareness that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23), including ourselves. The word for ‘transgressions’ contains within it the element of rebellion. It is an indication of the rebellious spirit. For in the end that is what our sin is, rebellion against God and His ways, rebellion against His love.
God In His Goodness Guides All Who Are Responsive To Him, And Reveals To Them His Goodness In Mercy And Covenant Love, Including Pardoning Their Iniquity (25.8-11).
Having called on God to guide him and show His covenant mercy towards him, the Psalmist now points out that this is in fact what YHWH, Who is good and upright, does for all sinners who are willing to be responsive to Him. He guides and leads them in His way, and reveals His covenant love (chesed) and faithfulness towards those who keep His covenant and His laws. The main emphasis here is on the activity of YHWH.
Because YHWH is good and upright that is why (‘therefore’) He does not just leave sinners to struggle on in ignorance, but instructs them in the right way, and when they are humble and responsive, guides them in what true righteousness involves, and indeed in His own way, the Way of Holiness (Isaiah 35.8).
‘Instructs’ is from the same root as the word ‘torah’, (God’s instruction). Thus He instructs them in His Law. ‘Meek.’ These are the humble minded who are ‘poor in spirit’ (compare 9.12, and see Matthew 5.3, 5; 1 Peter 5.5). ‘Justice.’ This is referring to the way of righteousness (see Proverbs 1.3, and compare Matthew 21.32).
And to those who are responsive to His covenant and to His instructions He reveals His own ‘covenant love’ (lovingkindness) and genuine faithfulness (compare Exodus 34.6). He never fails them but goes with them every step of the way, leading them in His own paths, paths which are paths of lovingkindness and truth.
His covenant, which contained His ‘testimonies’, His commandments (Deuteronomy 4.45; 6.17, 10), was made with His people at Sinai on the basis of earlier covenants (Exodus 20-23; compare Exodus 19.1-6; Genesis 17.2 ff). There Israel had committed themselves to the covenant, so the requirement here was that they fulfil their promise. And YHWH would respond with covenant love and true behaviour.
The thought of God’s faithfulness to responsive sinners reminds him again of his own sins, and recognising how great his sins are, he again humbly calls on YHWH for pardon ‘for His Name’s sake’.
‘For His Name’s sake.’ In other words because He is the One Who has represented Himself in His Law as the Great Forgiver, He must therefore forgive in order to maintain His honour, and in order that the world might know that He fulfils His promises.
It is significant that he does not speak here of forgiveness being available to those who respond to YHWH, although he is no doubt very much aware that it is. He refers rather to his own need for forgiveness. This was clearly because he had such a deep sense of his own sinfulness that at this stage he was overwhelmed by it. It reveals someone with a true heart, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13.14).
‘Iniquity.’ Activity that is crooked or wrong resulting from a heart that is wrong.
The One Who Fears YHWH Will Receive His Instruction, Will Enjoy Security And Prosperity, Will Be Aware That He Is One Of His Covenant People, And Will Be Kept From Falling (25.12-15).
We now come to the second and third stage in the parallels. In the case of the second stage the emphasis has been on YHWH’s activity towards His responsive people, in the case of the third stage it is on how His people who fear Him will benefit from it. But both have a similar pattern in mind:
----------- Verses 8-11 ---------------------------------Verses 12-15 -----------------
Good and upright is YHWH.---------- What man is he who fears YHWH?
Therefore will He instruct sinners in the way
The meek will He guide in justice,
And the meek will He teach his way --him will He instruct in the way that he will choose.’
All the paths of YHWH are ------------his soul will dwell at ease
lovingkindness and truth --------------And his seed will inherit the land
To such as keep His covenant ---------The friendship of YHWH is with those who fear Him,
and His testimonies ----------------------And he will show them His covenant.
For Your name’s sake, O YHWH------ My eyes are ever towards YHWH;
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great. ---For He will pluck my feet out of the net’
In this third stage it His people’s benefit that is in mind. He who reverentially fears YHWH will receive His instruction, will dwell with ease of soul, his children will inherit what God had promised, he will experience His friendship, will have the truth of the covenant made known to him by Him, and because his eyes are on Him will have his feet plucked out of the net that ensnares sinners. This is one step further than God not remembering his sins (verse 7) and pardoning his iniquity (verse 11). It is practical deliverance from sin. ‘Sin will no longer have dominion over you, for you are not under Law but under grace’ (Romans 6.14).
The Psalmist now points out what kind of a man God will have dealings with. It is a man who ‘is in awe of YHWH’ sufficiently to respond to His requirements. It is such a man who will be chosen by YHWH, so that YHWH will instruct him in His chosen way (Isaiah 30.21), or in his chosen way (Psalm 119.30, 173; Proverbs 1.29).
And the result will be that his inner life is at peace (his soul will dwell at ease) and his children will receive their God promised inheritance. Compare here Jesus’ promise, ‘blessed ones are those who are meek, for they will inherit the land’. ‘Inheriting the land’ basically means receiving the future that God has promised. The writer to the Hebrews points out that this means coming to a city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.10; compare Hebrews 12.22).
And those who fear Him will also enjoy the intimate friendship of YHWH, the kind of friendship which results in the sharing of secrets. The word for ‘friendship’ signifies the idea of a confidential and intimate relationship (compare its use in 55.14 - ‘sweet counsel’). And He will also show them (‘make them to know’) His covenant. They will have it ever brought to mind by Him (through His word) and will experience it in ever deeper measure because of their relationship with Him.
And finally because the Psalmists eyes are ever towards YHWH, the Psalmist knows that YHWH will preserve him from being caught in snares and traps. Note the sudden change to the first person which parallels verse 11. There he had called for forgiveness for his iniquity. Here he asserts his confidence that he will be delivered from all that could cause him to stumble because of YHWH’s intervention on his behalf
The Psalmist Now Prays For Deliverance From His Afflictions And Again For Forgiveness For His Sins (25.16-18).
Following the confidence expressed in the previous verses the Psalmist’s situation now again comes strongly home to him, and he sends up a heartfelt plea for deliverance. Three problems are especially in mind in the final verses of the Psalm, firstly his need to be delivered from his afflictions, secondly his repeated need for forgiveness, and thirdly his need to be saved from his enemies, although all three may well be connected. The enemy and their activities may well have contributed to his afflictions, and have increased the level of his sins. Once again in the midst of it all he is especially conscious of his need for his sins to be forgiven, something which has come out all the way through.
It is a salutary lesson that up to this point, while he has mentioned his enemies, the Psalmist has not mentioned his afflictions. He has been more concerned about his sins. To him his afflictions were less important than his continuing in the grace of God. But now he finally feels that he can bring them to God’s attention. So he calls on God to note his afflictions, and asks that God will turn towards him in them, for they seem to be getting bigger and bigger.
‘Have mercy on me.’ That is, ‘show your compassion towards me.’ He is very conscious that he needs to be held up by the love of God.
‘For I am desolate and afflicted.’ He is both lonely and afflicted. Every hand seems against him. This was Elijah’s cry on the mount, ‘I only I am left and they seek my life’ (1 Kings 19.10). It is very easy at such times to feel alone. (But there are always seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal).
‘The troubles of my heart are enlarged.’ The troubles of his heart appear to be piling one on top of the other. They just seem to be getting larger and larger. How often this can appear so to the believer. At such times we must remember that God is larger still and can enlarge us so that our troubles appear as nothing (119.32). It is amazing what a difference it can make if we remember that we are sons of the King, and that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3.20).
‘Oh, do you bring me out of my distresses’. So his final plea is that God will deliver him out of his distresses, which include his consciousness of his sins (verse 18).
‘And forgive all my sins.’ Once again his consciousness of his sins comes to the forefront, compare verses 7, 11. He is aware that his afflictions and travail have caused him to fall short of what he should be, and so he again seeks forgiveness. This need is thus at the very heart of the Psalm, along with his persistence in having communion with God.
Finally He Prays For Rescue From The Hands Of His Enemies, So That His Soul Might Be Kept In Integrity and Uprightness As He Waits On God (25.19-21).
As we saw at the beginning the thoughts here parallel those with which he began the Psalm. But we should note here that his final concern is to be kept in integrity and uprightness. That is his prime goal. He does not want his light to go out (Matthew 5.16).
The comparisons are as follows:
‘Consider my enemies’ (verse 19) --‘Let not my enemies triumph over me (verse 2).
‘O keep my soul and deliver me’ (verse 20) - ‘To you I lift up my soul’ (verse 1).
‘Let me not be ashamed’ (verse 20) ----------- ‘Let me not be put to shame’ (verses 2, 3).
‘For I put my trust in you’ (verse 20) --------- ‘In you have I trusted’ (verse 2)
‘For I will wait on you’ (verse 21) ------------- ‘None that wait on you will be ashamed’ (verse 3)
‘O God’ (verse 22) --------------------------------- ‘O my God’ (verse 1/2).
His thoughts now turn back to his enemies whom he has disregarded for most of the Psalm, for what has mattered first of all has been establishing his confidence in God and in His covenant, walking in God’s ways and enjoying God’s forgiveness of his sins. But if his enemies do triumph over him (verse 2) he knows that that will bring dishonour on YHWH for they are treacherous (verse 3), both towards him and towards God. And so he prays that God will behold his enemies who are many, and are not only many but are full of the kind of hatred that produces violence (‘the hatred of cruel violence’). Such experiences often occur to those who are faithful to God and His word.
So he asks that his inner heart might be kept true, and that he might experience deliverance. For to be put to shame would reflect on the One in Whom he takes refuge, the One in Whom he trusts.
His final concern is for the triumph of integrity and uprightness (in contrast with his enemies’ treachery - verse 3). He does not just want to be preserved, but preserved in integrity and uprightness. He wants them to act as his Preserver (compare goodness and mercy in 23.6; lovingkindness and truth in 40.11). And this is because he waits on God. He knows that there is no point in waiting on God without integrity and uprightness. He can wait in expectancy for God to act because what he is reveals that he is God’s man, and he will be preserved in integrity and uprightness because he is waiting on God as God’s man.
‘Integrity and uprightness.’ Compare 18.23, ‘I was also perfect with Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity’, and 15.2, where ‘he who walks uprightly and works righteousness’ will dwell in His holy hill. God answered his prayer, for this was in fact God’s testimony to Solomon concerning David, ‘as David your father walked in integrity of heart and in uprightness’ (1 Kings 9.4). Blessed indeed is the one of whom God can say that.
The Psalmists final plea is that God will redeem (deliver at a cost) Israel from all its troubles. He does not want to be thought of as just concerned about himself.
Many consider that this was added on when the Psalm was introduced into public worship. We should, however, note that the Psalmist has already had the true Israel in mind (verses 8-10, 12-14). Thus such a prayer is not inconsistent with the Psalm, and the use of ‘O God parallels the opening stanza. The prayer fits well with the concern of a king for his people, especially as he was the intercessory priest after the order of Melchizedek. Having prayed through about his own position he now prays for his people.
The use of ‘O God’ is rare in this section of the Psalms, but it parallels verse 1/2.
It should be considered that this Psalm could never have been written unless it had been preceded by Psalm 25. It was only once the question of forgiveness had been settled that the Psalmist could speak like this. For in this Psalm he approaches God with the confidence of a forgiven sinner.
‘A Psalm of David.’
In this Psalm the Psalmist testifies to YHWH that he has responded to YHWH’s covenant love and trustworthiness with a life of integrity and obedience, and he brings his life openly to God and calls on God to give him a religious check up. He is not afraid of this because he has already prepared himself by putting right all that was wrong in his life and seeking forgiveness (‘washing his hands in innocency’). He can also declare that he has not kept bad company, whether it be religiously devious, or openly sinful, and can therefore approach God to worship Him in innocency, which he does joyously because he loves His house and the place where His glory dwells. It is on these grounds that he looks to YHWH for long life so that he might continue to worship Him.
He is confident that having received the forgiveness that he had pleaded for in Psalm 25 he can now call on YHWH to judge him in the present as one who has been faithful, and has walked in integrity (compare 25.21). He is ready to open his whole life to YHWH’s scrutiny. And he is not afraid, because he knows that he has trusted YHWH with an unwavering trust (compare 25.2), a trust that does not slide about in constant changeableness, ‘none of his steps will slide’ (37.31). He has turned neither to left nor right (compare Isaiah 30.21). In all this he wants YHWH to shine His light on him so that he may ‘walk in the light’ before Him (compare 1 John 1.7).
The request to be judged is also a prayer that God will stand on his side against his adversaries (43.1). He is aware that unless YHWH is satisfied with what he is he has no right to such protection and help.
He is so confident of his current faithfulness to YHWH that he is ready to open himself for a thorough examination. ‘Examine me.’ He wants Him to test his integrity like an assayer tests the purity of metal. Compare Jeremiah 6.27 where Jeremiah was to act as such an assayer, ‘I have made you an assayer and a tester among my people that you may know and try their way’. See also 66.10. ‘Prove me.’ By weighing him up, measuring him against the Law, and coming to a fair conclusion. ‘Try my heart and my mind.’ By assessing all his inner thoughts. The word for ‘heart’ is often translated kidneys, which were seen as the seat of the emotions, or as ‘reins’, that which controlled those emotions (compare 7.9). The word for ‘mind’ signifies that which controls the thought and will.
We should note that he is not asking God to send him trials in order to test him. He has had enough of those. Rather he wants Him now to examine the results of those trials in order to discover that they have accomplished their purpose (compare 11.4-5). We should never pray for trials to come on us, for as Jesus stressed, our prayer should be, ‘do not bring us into trials but deliver us from evil’ (Matthew 6.13).
A prayer like this in public would rightly have been dismissed as showmanship (compare Luke 18.11-12). But in private it is the sign of a genuine desire to be pleasing to God. We should all be making such a prayer on a regular basis so that God can carry out His regular ‘service’ on our lives.
His confidence lies in the fact that he has kept God’s covenant love firmly before his eyes, responding to it and walking in the light of His trustworthiness as the God of truth, believing wholeheartedly that He is the God Who is true and faithful.
And because his eyes are on YHWH he has avoided contact with all those who would seek to lead him astray. He has not sat with men whose thoughts were on what is vain and useless, on what is false rather than what is true. Compare 1.1 ‘sat in the seat of the scornful’. Nor has he gone into the houses of (or possibly ‘gone in and out with’) those who hide the truth about themselves and pretend to be what they really are not (‘dissemblers’). He is straight and open and has avoided all that is doubtful and has an appearance of evil.
He hates the company of evil-doers, (but not the evil-doers themselves), for their ways bring dishonour on YHWH, and he will not sit with the wicked. While the first two mentioned were subtle and devious in their ways, these are openly and downright sinful. With ‘I hate the assembly of evil-doers’ compare ‘I love the dwellingplace of your house’ (verse 8). It was his contemplation of YHWH that made him turn from all who did evil. Also compare ‘in the assemblies I will bless YHWH’. The company that he preferred was that of righteous men whose hearts were fixed on YHWH.
Furthermore when he comes to stand around the altar with those who offer sacrifices, he prepares himself by making himself ‘innocent’ as a result of having had his sin dealt with by seeking God and putting it away from him. He has heeded the words of Isaiah, ‘Wash yourselves, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes’ (Isaiah 1.16). Now therefore he only has to ‘wash his hands’ that is deal with current sins. (We can compare Jesus’ words, ‘he who has been bathed needs only to was his feet’ - John 13.10). The washing of the hands has in mind the fact that the priests had to wash their hands and feet regularly as they operated between the altar and the holy place lest they die (Exodus 30.17-21), because of the defilement of earth contacted during that short walk, but the lack of mention of the feet here makes clear that this is intended to be seen as metaphorical. Compare 73.13 where washing the hands in innocency parallels the cleansing of the heart. Before coming into God’s presence in this way he has prepared his heart.
And the result of his coming before YHWH fully clean will be that his voice will ring out in thanksgiving, and he will proclaim all that the Lord has done for him.
Connecting with the previous verse this verse may suggest that he sees himself as there because of a fervent desire to offer a thanksgiving offering which would then be partaken of in his home or palace where he would tell his guests the reason for his gratitude to YHWH, recounting the wonderful things that He had done for him. But whether that is so or not, it is a reminder that all our worship should finally result in thanksgiving and testimony.
He wants YHWH to be aware of how much he loves His dwellingplace, the Tabernacle, the place in which is the Ark of the covenant of YHWH, the symbolic representation of God’s glorious presence. (When the Ark was captured by the Philistines, the ‘glory’ was said to have departed - 1 Samuel 4.22). He loves it because it is where YHWH reveals Himself among His people (compare Exodus 29.43; 40.34), and where they can meet with Him.
He prays that his soul will not be ‘snatched away’ and his life taken from him. Premature death is the lot of men of violence, and men who propagate violence, those whose ways are wicked, who constantly use underhand methods to get their way. It may be that a pestilence was raging, which would explain why he felt that some of the evil-doers might in the near future reap their deserts, and from which he himself was anticipating protection because he was under YHWH’s eye.
‘In whose hands is wickedness,’ They were guilty of corruption and defrauding the people, and if it seemed as though they might be caught they prevented it by the payment of bribes.
But the Psalmist is not like that. His back is turned on corruption, and he intends to continue walking in integrity. And so he prays that YHWH will deliver him by an exertion of power at a cost to Himself, and will be merciful to him, so that he may prevail against those who are against him.
And having the assurance of verse 11 he can declare that his foot now stands in a level place. No longer for him the valley of darkness, where danger ever lurks (23.4), or the rough paths along which it is easy to stumble, for YHWH has brought him out into a pleasant place, and among the assemblies of YHWH He will stand in order to bless Him.
This Psalm to some extent follows the pattern of Psalm 25. There also a prayer of confidence and certainty (25.3-15), was followed by an urgent plea for help (25.16-21). It is often thus with the people of God in the place of prayer. As their eyes are turned upwards towards God and His ways, confidence overflows, and nothing can distress them. They can move mountains. All is serene. And then the eyes turn on the problems around and at that point entreaty becomes urgent, and even desperate, as the pressing needs are considered and ‘earthly reality’ takes over. It was thus with the Psalmist. The change of emphasis is underlined, not only by the words, but also by the change in poetic structure. The smooth rendition in the first half (verses 1-6) suddenly becomes rough in the second half. For while he is confident in God, he is deeply aware of the parlousness of his position as one cast off even by his family, and it is tearing his heart apart..
The explanation for why the compiler positioned this Psalm after Psalm 26 can be found if we compare verse 7 with Psalm 26.11, and verse 11 with Psalm 26.12. There are similarities of thought.
‘A Psalm of David.’
The Psalm opens with a declaration of the Psalmists confidence in God, and his recognition of His attributes. He has taken his mind off his own troubles as he considers the wonder of God’s love and faithfulness. Note the tripod on which his life is built, God is his light, God is his salvation, God is the strength of his life.
‘YHWH is my light.’ The Psalmist may have had in mind here the seven-branched lampstand in the Tabernacle/Temple which continually burned (see verse 4), and which pictured the glory of YHWH that Israel believed was hidden behind the veil. It was a perpetual reminder of the glory of God which was revealed in the pillar of fire that had led His people out of Egypt, and of the further glory of YHWH which had been revealed on Mount Sinai. Compare here 78.14, ‘In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.’ Thus he saw himself as being led forward by the glory of YHWH. This idea of glory ties in with Isaiah 60.1, ‘arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of YHWH is risen upon you.’
Furthermore it was from His light that His people obtained guidance, assurance and truth. ‘The entrance of Your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple’ (119.130). ‘Your word is a lamp to my way, and a light to my path’ (119.105). ‘He lightens the lampstand of His people and lightens their darkness’ (18.28). ‘They look to Him and are lightened, and their faces are thus not ashamed’ (34.5). ‘For with you is the fountain of life, in your light shall we see light’ (36.9). ‘Oh send out your light and your truth, let them lead me’ (43.3).
He is also elsewhere compared by David with the glorious light of the noonday sun. ‘He will be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises, a morning without clouds’ (2 Samuel 23.4). But to him YHWH outshines the sun, and His light reflects on His people, making them righteous too. ‘He will make your righteousness go forth as the light, and your just dealings as the noonday’ (37.6). That is why Jesus could say, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5.16).
And we need not doubt that it includes the thought of the light of YHWH’s favour. The Psalmists regularly speak of ‘the light of His countenance’ as shining on His people (4.6; 44.3; 89.15; 90.8; compare Proverbs 16.15).
For us the light shines even more clearly. Not the dim light of the Tabernacle lampstand, but the glorious light of Him Who is ‘the light of the world’ Who gives the light of life to His own (John 8.12; 12.35-36, 46; 1.4, 9). ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14) ‘I am come a light into the world, so that whoever believes in me may not continue on in darkness’ (John 12.46), ‘but will have the light of life’ (John 8.12).
‘YHWH is my salvation.’ What picture could be more comprehensive? He is the God of the deliverance from Egypt at the Red Sea (15.2). He saves him by forgiving his sins (25.7, 11). He saves him by delivering him from his enemies (verse 2). He saves him by bringing him through everything that he has to face triumphantly. This indeed is what the name of Jesus means, ‘YHWH is salvation’, because He saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1.21).
‘Whom shall I fear?’ And with such certainty who can be afraid? If my life is hid with Christ in God I need fear nothing but sin, for although sometimes the future may seem dark, He will make all right in the end. None can stand against Him.
‘YHWH is the strength of my life.’ This underlines the significance of God’s light and salvation. The certainty of God’s presence with him provides him with an inner strength that nothing can resist. The ‘stronger than he’ is here and Satan and all his enemies will be vanquished (compare Luke 11.22). David was well acquainted with Satan (1 Chronicles 21.1). Furthermore YHWH is like a fortress round about him protecting him from all assaults of the enemy (18.2; 31.2, 3).
‘Of whom shall I be afraid?’ He knows that having YHWH with him he need fear nothing and no one.
He casts his mind back to the past, and remembers how his enemies had tried to destroy him But no matter who they had been, whether internal enemies or external, they had all stumbled and fallen. None had been able to prevail against him. They had been unable to ‘eat his flesh’, that is, to destroy him. And the same was still true. The Hebrew ‘past tense’ reflects not so much the past, but the sense of definiteness.
Significantly when the greater David came His enemies would be allowed to ‘eat His flesh’ (John 6.53) by destroying Him. For it was only through doing that that light (John 8.12) and salvation (Matthew 1.21) could be made available to His people as they too could ‘eat His flesh’ by trusting in Him (John 6.35)
In the light of YHWH’s presence with him nothing could stand against him. Whether it be an enemy encamped against him, and he had seen many of those, or whether it be open war, he had nothing to be afraid of, for his confidence lay in the One Who was mighty in battle, YHWH of hosts (24.8, 10). In quietness and in confidence would be his strength (Isaiah 30.15). Our enemies may be of a different kind, especially the enemies of the soul (Ephesians 6.12), but the One Who is our light and our salvation will deliver us from them all as we clothe ourselves in His armour (Ephesians 6.10-18) and walk with Him (Matthew 10.28).
For he has only one goal, and that is to enter more fully into His light and salvation by ‘dwelling in the house of YHWH all the days of his life’ in order that he might behold the beauty of YHWH and learn from Him. He does not mean by this that he intends to live perpetually in YHWH’s house in a literal sense, but that he may constantly feast at His table and have fellowship with Him (compare 23.4-5; 15.1; 78.19) while he meditates on His beauty (compare 16.11; 90.16-17; 96.6, 9; Isaiah 25.6). The literal element will be when he goes to enquire in His temple. For ‘the temple’ as signifying the established Tabernacle see 1 Samuel 1.9; 3.3; 2 Samuel 22.7.
He visualises YHWH as some great oriental prince, magnificently arrayed (compare Exodus 28.2) and magnanimous to His guests, and himself as one who has constant access to His Table. ‘Your eyes shall see the king in His beauty’ (Isaiah 33.17). A beautiful picture of this is found in the life of Mephibosheth, where one who was lame in both his feet, and therefore in those days to be hidden away, instead dwelt in the king’s house and sat daily at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9.13). He must often have looked around filled with wonder at the sudden change in his fortunes.
We too should seek constantly to feast with the Lord at His table, enjoying His presence, gazing at the beauty of His life, seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6), and meditating constantly on His words, continually coming to Him and believing on Him so that we might enjoy the Bread of life to the full. ‘I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6.35)
‘And to enquire in His temple.’ Not the least of his privileges was that he could approach YHWH in His temple and enquire of His will, in the same way as we can at the throne of grace (Hebrews 4.16). The word elsewhere means ‘to seek out, to search out’. Alternately this might mean, ‘reflect upon His sanctuary’ (compare 73.17), as he ‘searches out’ its symbolism which reveals something of the nature of God (compare verse 1; and see Hebrews 8.5, and the whole message of Hebrews).
That the Psalmist is already conscious of the troubles that will take up the second part of the Psalm comes out here. But he recognises that his trust must be firmly in YHWH. YHWH will protect and keep him. He will keep him safe in His pavilion, hidden in the security of His tent, firmly established in his impregnable fortress on a rock. None can feel insecure when protected by the Warrior King, the Mighty in battle, YHWH of hosts.
Once again we have the dual comparison of the King’s table, spread in His pavilion, and the protection of the sanctuary which was absolute. The one who was in the King’s pavilion was safe from plottings and deceitful tongues, especially when his presence there was unknown (31.20). In the same way Isaiah also pictures the glorious future of God’s true people in terms of a pavilion where the glory of YHWH is manifested (Isaiah 4.5-6), and of a strong city where none can harm them (Isaiah 26.1-4), protected by the walls of salvation and praise (Isaiah 61.18). And one day, ‘a Man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land’ (Isaiah 32.2) and will be manifested by the opening of ears and eyes, and the giving of knowledge and the releasing of tongues (Isaiah 32.3). And it is to Him that we must look constantly.
His confidence in YHWH’s protection gives him the further confidence of triumph. He knows that because God is on his side his enemies will stand no chance against him, for God will lift up his head above theirs. And the result will be that he will be offering ‘sacrifices of joy’ (thanksgiving offerings offered in rejoicing as a result of victory) within the Tabernacle, God’s Dwellingplace. He will not overlook what he owes to God, but will express his gratitude with a joyous heart. The thought may includes the shouts of joy and clashing of cymbals often accompanying worship at the Tabernacle (33.3; 47.1, 5; 95.1-2; 2 Samuel 6.15).
The section ends with a change of metre, as he concludes it with words of praise to YHWH (compare the similar situation in verse 14). Note the dual emphasis on his singing. ‘I will sing, yes, I will sing.’ But the questions is, what will he sing? And the answer is that he will sing praises to YHWH. His heart will be full of joy in Him. (Again compare the repetition in verse 14, but there it is of waiting on YHWH as befits the change of tone)
From this point on the metre deliberately becomes less definite in order to indicate the situation in which he finds himself. The smoothness of his experience with God now gives way to the hurly-burly of life. What follows is not a new Psalm but a descending from the high point of worship to face up to the realities that lie before him. For a while he had been able to forget his troubles but now they come home to him with a vengeance. It is not an unusual situation for a believer who is confident in God and yet aware of great troubles ahead.
In this second part of the Psalm it appears as though his family have cast him off, with the result that he is concerned lest YHWH too cast him off. It is necessary here to remember the closeness of family ties in Israel, and their importance. To be cast off from the family was to be rejected by the tribe. And that could be seen as being cut off from God. Such a situation may have resulted from false information having been laid against David by Saul, so that even his family withdrew their support from him. but whatever it was it went very deep.
And so he cries to YHWH that He will hear his voice, and will in compassion answer him, and be gracious to him.
It is tempting here to see these words as the words of YHWH interspersed with the Psalmist’s own words, or put into the Psalmist’s mouth, so that it is the heart of YHWH speaking to his heart, and saying ‘Seek My face’. And that fits best with what follows. On the other hand, the general impression of the Hebrew is rather that they are the words of the Psalmist, in which case they refer to a desperate heart plea to YHWH to seek him out and look into his face when no one else will do so. All have turned away from him, including his family, but he still hopes that YHWH will seek him out and look him in the face, as he intends to look YHWH in the face.
But whatever the situation he intends to seek the face of YHWH, and so he prays that YHWH will not hide His face from him. The heart rending nature of the situation is clearly apparent, and brought out by the stuttering metre.
He continues his theme. Though all have turned against him he prays that YHWH will not turn against him, for it is ever YHWH Who has been his help, and if He were to turn from him what would he have left? So he pleads with Him not to cast him off or forsake him, and to remember that He is the God Who saves, and Who saves him, as he has already stated in verse 1. That being so he throws himself on Him. It reveals something of how deserted he feels. When all others have cast him off, YHWH is his last hope.
But in the end he is confident that even though his father and his mother forsake him, and he is cast off by his family and tribe, YHWH will take him up. We are reminded of Jesus’ words to His disciples about the fact that some of them must expect rejection even by their own families (Matthew 10.21-22, 35-36; Mark 13.12-13). That is what can be the result of following Him wholly. For when men follow God they can never know what it will involve. But at such moments they can remember, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man will do to me’ (118.6, cited in Hebrews 13.6). Compare here Isaiah 49.15, ‘shall a woman forget her breast-feeding child, that she should not have compassion on the son that she bore? Yes she may forget, yet will I not forget you. Behold I have engraved you on the palm of my hand’.
The crisis moment past he now prays that YHWH will show him the way ahead. He wants Him to teach him His way, and lead him in a level path in which he will not stumble, a real necessity in view of the behaviour of his enemies. He is aware that he is in a sticky situation, But is confident that God can guide him through it.
So with his confidence somewhat restored he asks that his life might not be subjected to what his opponents want for him, for they have risen up against him and maligned him, and have spoken about him cruelly, which is no doubt why his family have rejected him. The last thing therefore that he wants is to be subject to their will.
And finally he brings out the fact that he had almost been in despair. Had it not been that he had believed to see the goodness of YHWH in the land of the living, he could not have endured, such was the anguish resulting from his rejection. When our spiritual legs fail us it is good that we can look to the certainty that ‘the Eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33.27).
‘Unless I had believed.’ We would expect something to come before this. Some add words in translation like ‘I had fainted unless --’. That is clearly the idea. LXX has simply, ‘I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’ Alternately he may be saying, ‘such as breathe out cruelty were it not that I believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ with the idea that his faith in YHWH in some way prevents them from behaving in that way towards him. But it is undoubtedly very awkward.
Like the first section, the second section ends with a repetition, but this time it is a repetition of the need to wait for YHWH, addressed by the Psalmist to himself, and to every individual in the congregation. Sometimes patient endurance is required. God does not always act at once. And so each must wait and be strong. Each must let his heart take courage, for it is necessary to wait for YHWH, with the confidence that in the end, in His own time, He will act. He will not leave us comfortless, He will come to us (John 14.8).
This Psalm commences with an earnest appeal, and finishes in the triumphant knowledge of God’s salvation and watch over both the Psalmist himself, and His people.
We should note that as in Psalm 26.4-5 the Psalmist is again concerned with the company he keeps (verses 3-5). This should act as a warning to us that if we would keep company with the Lord we cannot also keep company with those who oppose Him. For God will take note of the comany that we keep.
The Psalm splits neatly into four.
1). The Psalmist earnestly calls on God to hear his prayer (1-3).
2). He prays that he might not be counted among those who go astray after their own ways (3-5).
3). He rejoices because he knows that YHWH has heard him and will be his strength (28.6-7)
4). He finally rejoices because he knows that YHWH will also be the protector of all His people (28.8-9).
‘A Psalm of David.’
The Psalmist Earnestly Calls On God To Hear His Prayer (28.1b-3).
In each of these two verses the ideas fall into an abbc pattern, with each central idea then being repeated in another form. Note the contrast between the two verses. In the first the Psalmist wishes to avoid what to him is virtually a living death, a silent YHWH. In the other He joyously looks to the living God within the inner Sanctuary, in full anticipation of response. Woe be to us also if God is silent in our lives.
But there is a great deal of difference between God being silent, and our having to go through the valley of thick darkness trusting God along the way (23.4). Sometimes we have to learn to trust God in the dark. It is not then that God is being silent, but that He is teaching us to trust Him even when the lights are off. We must not think that our spiritual lives are dependent on our feelings. They are dependent on the gracious activity of God. So even when our feelings are at a low point, we must continue to look to Him with trust and confidence. ‘In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30.15). The valley will not turn out to be endless, and we will emerge from it the stronger.
He commences by calling on YHWH as his Rock. The idea of YHWH as a Rock is common in Scripture, especially as the rock on which we are founded so that nothing can move us (18.2, 31, 46; 27.5; and often; Deuteronomy 32.4, 18; 2 Samuel 22.2-3, 32, 47; 23.3; etc), and therefore as the source of our strength. He is regularly described as the Rock of our salvation, and this is often connected with the idea of an impregnable fortress. It is in this Rock that we must put our confidence. What we have to do is ensure that we are ‘in Him’. And then we will be secure.
This idea of the Rock on which we are built is then also applied to Jesus Christ, where He describes Himself as the chief cornerstone of His church (Mark 12.10). Those who are founded on Him, and what He has done for them on the cross, and through the resurrection, will withstand every earthquake shock (1 Corinthians 3.11). Nothing will move them for they are founded on a rock.
For the rock in which we can find shelter from all that would get us down see Isaiah 32.2. For we must not only be founded on Him, but ‘in Him’. We must recognise that ‘we’ are dead and that our lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).
Note his fear that his Rock, even YHWH, may be deaf to him, and be silent towards him when he prays, for in his eyes that would simply result in a living death. To go down into the Pit is to enter Sheol, the grave world (compare 88.3-4; 143.7). It is the world of those who do not hear YHWH. And to him the thought of being out of touch with YHWH is unbearable. It would be like joining the living dead. And the test of that is not our feelings. It is the test of the genuineness of our hearts towards Him.
But the thoughts of his heart are actually in a far different direction. They are directed towards the inner sanctuary in which is the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH, the earthly throne of the heavenly King, and it is to there that he cries out and lifts up his hands in prayer (a regular way of praying, compare 63.4; 1 Timothy 2.8). And even while he does this he is aware that he is speaking to the One Whom even the heaven of heavens cannot contain (1 Kings 8.27).
For us there is an even greater privilege, for our Lord Jesus Christ has made a way for us into God’s very presence, a new and living way established through Himself and the offering of Himself on our behalf, and we can ever therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, (the throne from which God reveals His compassion and lovingkindness) where we can obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 10.19; 4.16)
He Prays That He Might Not Be Counted Among Those Who Go Astray After Their Own Ways (28.3-5).
But those who would enter His presence and walk with Him, must also be careful of the company they keep (compare 1 Corinthians 5.11). And he especially has in mind here those who pretend to be one thing, while all the time having the intention in their hearts to be very different. On the one hand they speak peace with their neighbours, but on the other their intentions towards them are not for their good. And this is because they have no concern for YHWH and His works and ways. They are not out to love their neighbours as themselves, but rather to squeeze out of their neighbours as much as they can. They are selfish and concerned only for their own good.
But the problem with enjoying such company will be that we enjoy also their end when they receive their final deserts. And they will be broken down, rather than being built up.
So the Psalmist does not want to be counted among those who are deliberately misleading or downright dishonest, those who are ‘workers of iniquity’, while all the time putting on the appearance of being the opposite. He does not want to, as it were, be arrested along with them and dragged off for sentence (‘drawn away’). For he does not approve of their ways. This is a warning that we should consider people’s motives and well as their outward actions before we involve ourselves with them. How easy it is to be led astray by those who outwardly appear only to be concerned for what is good, while having a hidden agenda in their hearts.
In this verse we have parallel ideas in the first two lines, the wicked and the workers of iniquity, followed by a contrast which is in a sense a test. They speak peace with their neighbours while their intention towards them is very different. Like him therefore we must always consider the genuineness of our thoughts and actions. We must ensure that our hearts are true.
The Psalmist wants to have no time for such people. He agrees that they should receive their full deserts because of the ways in which they behave. Here we have an abba pattern. Centrally their doings are wicked, as are the operations of their hands, ideas which are contained within the envelope of giving them according to their works, and rendering to them what they deserve.
If we see this as harsh we must remember that these words are on the mouth of one who has been called to act as a judge in Israel. He has a responsibility for law and order. Thus it is a cry that God will enable him to ensure sound justice without fear or favour, and to remove criminals from the streets, while at the same time ensuring that he only gives them what they deserve. He is aware that he must ever remember that he is acting on behalf of God.
In the end their behaviour is the result of the fact that they have no concern for YHWH, and are not interested in His doings. They are like the fool who says in his heart, ‘there is no God’ (14.1). And the result will be that they will be dismantled rather than being built up. Their lives will come to nothing. Note the contrast with verse 4. The operation of their hands is precisely because they do not take notice of the operation of His hands. Their doings are wicked because they ignore His works. We can compare here Isaiah 1.16, ‘put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well’. It is not that God has not given them a chance to repent. If they are willing to do so there is always a way back.
Note also the impact of the illustration taken from the idea of pulling down and erecting buildings. They have had no interest in what God is achieving, and act contrary to it, and so, although they may stand proud for a time, He will dismantle them and whatever they are achieving, for it is contrary to His ways. Rather than building them up and making them eternally useful, he will bring them crashing down. In the end their lives will count for nothing. Compare 73.17, ‘until --- I considered their latter end’. Many a building stands proud, tall and immovable, until the arrival of the demolition squad. We should look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen, for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.18).
He Rejoices Because He Knows That YHWH Has Heard Him And Will Be His Strength (28.6-7).
His thoughts now become more positive. The negative was necessary, but now he begins to look upward. He has prayed through to a point of confidence and faith. And the more he prays the greater his faith. (‘This kind goes out only through prayer’ - Mark 9.29, for it is prayer that produces growth in faith).
He begins by blessing God for having heard his pleas. The fears of verse 1b have departed, and he praises Him for listening to his supplications. It is a reminder to us that however dead our prayers might appear, if we genuinely approach Him in Jesus’ Name (with His good in mind, not ours), we can be sure that they are being attended to.
And having blessed God, he now firmly establishes himself on what he knows about Him. It is He Who is the source of his strength, and is the great shield behind which he can take shelter. He knows that YHWH the Mighty Warrior, the God of battle, is acting on his behalf, both positively to give him the victory, and negatively to keep him from all harm, and that he is being helped. No wonder then that his heart rejoices and he is filled with praise. He knows that one with God is a majority. Note the order. He meditates on what God is on His behalf, then he is helped, and this causes him to rejoice in his heart, with the result that the praises break forth from his mouth.
He Rejoices Because He Knows That YHWH Will Be The Protector Of All His People (28.8-9).
But the Psalmist is not only concerned for himself. His concern is for all God’s people. And he rejoices because what God is for him, He also is for them. He has now become one of God’s intercessors. This was in fact one of the king’s privileges. He could approach God on behalf of his people because he was a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (110.4). But that is also our privilege too, for we have become sons of the King, called upon to reign with Him (Revelation 5.10; 20.4; 1 Corinthians 4.8).
Note the change to ‘their’. What YHWH has been for him (his strength and shield,) He is also for His people. He is their strength and their stronghold, the strength on which they can constantly draw, the stronghold into which they can enter in order to be saved. He is a strong refuge (71.7; 61.3). The righteous run into it and are safe (Proverbs 18.10).
‘To His anointed.’ This may refer to the king as the anointed of YHWH and the representative of his people (2.2; 18.50; 20.6; 2 Samuel 22.51; 23.1; etc), or to the people themselves, whom God has set apart for Himself under the shelter of His Name. Our blessing too comes because we are sheltered under the Name of His Anointed, even Jesus in Whom we trust.
So he finishes by calling on God to save His people and bless His inheritance. They are not only His people but of value to Him as well (compare Exodus 19.5-6). And they are something for which He has a responsibility. Thus he asks Him also to be their shepherd and to uphold His people for ever, bearing them up in His arms (compare Isaiah 40.11).
But David could never have dreamed that one day this very Shepherd would come down from above to be the good Shepherd Who would die for His sheep, so that they might follow Him and be given eternal life and total security (John 10.11, 17-18, 27-28). How much more then should we praise the Name of Him When we consider how much He has done for us.
This Psalm appears to have been written during or after a storm of particular violence. And we should recognise that when such storms occur in Palestine they can be very violent and very vivid indeed. Thus the very power of this storm brings home to the Psalmist the majesty and power of YHWH. ‘Look at this, O heavenly ones,’ he is saying to the angelic host. ‘And consider the glory of YHWH.’
He is so moved by the storm that, in the midst of the clashing of the thunder, the powerful streaks of lightning lighting up the sky, the powerful wind sweeping across the land and stripping the trees, and the drenching rain pouring from the heavens enveloping everything around, he feels that the only ones he can address are the glorious beings who surround the throne, because only they can appreciate what they are seeing. And he calls on them with their knowledge of the glory of YHWH to bear witness to that glory as revealed in the storm, and worship Him in the beauty of His majestic holiness. For he is seeing behind the storm to what it tell him about YHWH.
Then he turns to a consideration of the phenomena of the storm itself, and describes it in vividly poetic style,. Picturesquely he brings out the voice of the thunder, shaking the clouds which are full of flood water, or rolling over the floods which are already being caused by the drenching rain, and vividly portrays the dancing trees which are behaving like living creatures caught up in the storm. He draws our attention to the blinding streaks of forked lightning flashing down from the sky, lightning which in its plurality appears to be hewed out by YHWH, and describes equally vividly the bushes in the semi-desert of Kadesh as they are shaken in the tempest. And he visualises the cowering hinds who in their anxiety at the storm have been brought into a state of premature birth, and finishes with a description of the great forest which is itself being stripped bare of its leaves by the mighty wind. And his summation of all that he has described is simply this, ‘and in His Temple everything says glory’.
He then finally follows all this up with a vivid picture of the heavenly King as He once sat in His majesty at the Flood, and is still sitting there in the same majesty this very day. That is what the storm is saying to him. But the thought is not that God will now destroy the earth for a second time, but that He sits there as the One Whose purpose is to impart something of this mighty strength to His people, so that even when the very foundations of life appear to be shaken, they can know that He is there, and will, even in the storms of life, bless them with a remarkable peace which is in startling contrast to all that has described before. In the midst of a world which appears to have been torn apart the believer hears a voice which says, ‘Peace, perfect peace, in this dark (and violent) world of sin, the blood of Jesus whispers peace within’.
Isaiah put it another way, but with the same majestic perspective, when he says, ‘For thus says the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is Holy. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones’ (Isaiah 57.15).
‘A Psalm of David.’
The Psalmist Calls On The Angelic Hosts To Bear Witness To The Glory Of YHWH As Revealed In A Devastating Storm (29.1-2).
The Psalmist commences by calling on the mighty heavenly host, ‘the sons of heavenly ones’, to behold the storm and ascribe glory and strength to YHWH, and to worship Him in their holy array (their holy garments for beauty - compare Exodus 28.2). For he feels that even to them this mighty storm must surely indicate something of the glory and strength of YHWH, and reveal Him as fitting of all honour, and as having power over all things (compare verse 10).
‘O you sons of heavenly ones (bene elim - compare 89.6; and also Job 38.7 where we have bene elohim).’ Compare for this the bene ha-elohim of Job 1.6; 2.1; Genesis 6.2 where we must render ‘sons of God’. Whether the lack of article and lack of ‘h’ justifies the different translation is a moot point, for the form is poetical. But the question is not of too much importance because whichever way we translate these are not seen as literally ‘sons of God’ but as a class of ‘God-like’ beings (‘sons of --’ indicates ‘being like, being followers of’) compare 89.6, 7; 97.7c. And yet they too ascribe strength and glory to YHWH and worship Him in their devastatingly beautiful and holy garments. They are a class apart from men, but still worshippers of YHWH.
‘The beauty of holiness.’ This is a possible translation, and there are a number of alternative suggestions as to its meaning:
There may in fact be a combination of thought in that Heaven is a place of holy beauty both because God is there and because of the angels who do His bidding. Here it may well indicate distinctive character (holiness - set apartness) in contrast to man.
The whole idea is that these glorious beings all worship YHWH and ascribe glory to Him, and that they can hardly help doing so in the face of this mighty storm with its primordial connections going to the very heart of creation. It is not just a question of very bad weather or even the majesty of the storm. It is a seeing in the mighty storm all the forces of nature that lie behind it, forces which God has under control, and which are the result of the way He created the world. As such they had once been let loose at the Flood, and the thought behind it is that if God were not reigning over it then the whole universe would go into reversal. Compare Colossians 1.17 where Jesus is described in terms of ‘He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together’.
A Vivid Description Of The Mighty And Unforgettable Storm (29.3-9).
The Psalmist now vividly describes the power and awesomeness of the storm, and ends up with visualising true believers sheltering in the Temple and crying, “Glory!” They thus join with Heaven itself (verses 1-2) in ascribing glory to ‘the Lord’.
Attention now turns to the storm itself. ‘The voice of YHWH’ occurs seven times in the Psalm indicating its importance to his meaning, ad stressing the completeness of the divine activity. Here is the voice of the Creator at work upon His creation. We can compare the seven references to ‘and God said’ in Genesis 1.3-25 prior to the creation of man (or alternately one for each day and two on the sixth day). And there too the voice of God had spoken on the waters (Genesis 1.9), and now here it is happening again. But this time the voice is a voice of thunder and it is reverberating on many waters, and is a reminder of the Flood (verse 10). This vivid picture may be indicating that He sits over the storm clouds which are just waiting to pour out their floods as He thunders upon them (18.11-12; Jeremiah 10.13), or it may indicate that they have already poured out much of their contents, so that it already almost appears as though the whole land is again about to be flooded (compare verse 10, where mabbul is used, a word which is a reminder of The Flood and only used of that, being found eleven times in Genesis 7-11, and otherwise only here). Either way He is in control and will not allow another such disaster to happen (Genesis 9.11). However, the point is that He could if He wanted to, all the power is there to be able to do it again, but that instead it is rather His intention to exercise His tremendous power on behalf of His people (verse 11). And what is being described here is the voice of the God of glory mentioned in verse 1 performing His own will.
It is instructive to consider what His voice will do, for all is at His command. It is powerful and full of majesty (verse 4). It breaks the cedars in pieces, and makes them skip like young cattle (verses 5-6). It hews out and separates the lightning (verse 7). It ‘shakes’ the wilderness (verse 8). It causes the pregnant hinds to calve (verse 9a) It strips the forest of its leaves (verse 9b). And the resulting cry comes back from the Temple of, “Glory”, as it brings home to His people the majesty of YHWH.
It is valuable in this regard to see the whole canvas, before considering the detail.
Having thus read it and appreciated its beauty and its forcefulness we will now consider it verse by verse.
As a poet he sees the storm as revealing the power and majesty of the voice of YHWH. He sees all this as happening because YHWH is speaking, and His voice is powerful and full of majesty.
In those ancient days nothing seemed more firm and solid than the cedars of Lebanon. They stood there firm and strong, appearing to withstand the tide of history, and were seen as ‘high and lifted up’ (Isaiah 2.13). But before this mighty storm they are broken as though they are but matchsticks. YHWH speaks and the cedars come crashing down, and their mighty roots are torn up, while others are simply torn apart leaving their stems sticking up into the air.
Even the stolid mountains of Lebanon and Hermon are made to skip like a calf and dance about like a young wild-ox as a result of His activity. Sirion is the ancient name for Mount Hermon (compare Deuteronomy 3.9). Unless there was an earthquake, we must see here the effect of the storm on what was growing on them. All the trees and vegetation were swaying in, and torn by, the wind, making the mountains look alive, and this went on until the vegetation could stand the pressure no longer and collapsed before the storm. It is a picture of huge desolation.
And all around were streaks of lightning flashing from Heaven as though they were being hewn out by YHWH. The Psalmist stands in awe as he sees the continual forked lightning splitting the sky, and setting on fire the trees and vegetation, as the thunder continually rolls. He sees it as the very voice of YHWH from Heaven.
And at the other end of the country, in the semi-desert of the Negev, the bushes and trees are shaken, and torn up by their roots, as a mighty hurricane sweeps the land. It is as though the whole area is being taken up and shaken. And it occurs at the command of YHWH. He speaks and it is done. In it is a hint of the reversal of creation, a reminder of what could happen if the Creator withheld His hand.
Meanwhile wildlife also is affected. Such is the effect of this powerful storm that the pregnant hinds come to birth before their time. Nature is being shaken through and through. They are but a vivid example of a more general catastrophe. We are left to imagine the wild beasts cowering in their lairs.
And the great forests of Canaan are being stripped of their leaves as the howling wind tears through them, until the whole of the forests have been laid bare. And all this again at the sevenfold voice of YHWH.
‘In His temple everything says, “Glory!”. This may have reference to the heavenly Temple where the angelic hosts are gathered watching in awe this mighty storm, the like of which has not been seen before within the lifetime of those who witnessed it on earth. Or it may signify that the people had gathered in the security of the Temple and were now, along with the angelic hosts, crying ‘glory’ to the Lord. Alternately the idea might be that the symbolism of all the furniture in the Temple is crying glory to the Lord, for which compare Hebrews 8.5; 9.1-10.14.
This Mighty Phenomenon, And Its Limitation, Arises Because YHWH Is Seated In Power In Control Of His Creation, Paradoxically Aiming Through The Storm To Give Strength To His People And To Give Them Peace (29.10-11).
The end of the Psalm comes as a surprise. Far from being seen as a judgment of God this mighty display of power is seen as revealing His intention to make His people strong and give them peace. For it is a reminder that He Who originally brought the Flood upon the world, and controls all that happens on earth, still reigns as King, and instead of again destroying the world will utilise His power in giving strength to His people and in establishing them in peace and security. Out of seeming chaos will come blessing.
God is revealed in the same way at the cross. As Jesus hung on the cross all the mighty devastation of the ages was heaped upon Him. But from it was to flow strength to His people, peace with God and a peace which passes all understanding.
And what does this huge act of power demonstrate? It demonstrates that the same YHWH Who once sat as King when the Flood came on the earth and devastated it, is still the same YHWH Who sits on His throne and reigns today. His power is still unlimited. And yet the very fact that they have survived the storm is an illustration of the fact of God’s mercy. He has not again brought a Flood upon the earth. He reigns supreme and nature is subject to His will, and His voice.
And the Psalmist’s final remarkable conclusion is that this great power which has caused this devastating storm, the like of which has not been seen before in his lifetime, and which has been a manifestation of the glory of YHWH, is the same power that YHWH will exercise in order to strengthen His people and give them peace. He will work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure. And none know this better than those whose whole hope is placed on what God accomplished at the cross and through the resurrection. That was a storm indeed.
This Psalm would appear to be an expression of thanksgiving for healing from what had appeared to be a fatal disease. His illness has reminded the Psalmist of his mortality, and has warned him against complacency, but now it re-echoes in praise. Now he is filled with gratitude and thanksgiving. It is such an individual psalm that we must surely see it as originating out of personal circumstances, even if it came to be used in wider ways
‘A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House. Of David.’
The psalm is such an individual one that this heading pulls us up short. And it raises the question as to which ‘house’ is being spoken of. It is possible that we are intended to see it as referring to ‘the house of David’. It may be that this was written by a young descendant of David who had not as yet borne children, but had been very ill and had expected to die. Thus having been healed of what he had thought was a fatal illness, he may well by this psalm have been rededicating his ‘house’ to God.
Others have seen it as referring to the plague that swept Israel as a result of David’s sin ( 2 Samuel 24.15-17). It may then be seen as David’s lament on behalf of his people as he identifies them with himself, and his resulting thanksgiving as a result of God’s mercy.
Still others, however, see the dedication as indicating a purpose to which the Psalm was later put, possibly at the rededication of the second Temple (see Haggai and Zechariah). It may then be seen as having been taken over in order to reflect the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, a deliverance which had eventually resulted in the second Temple, for what happened to the king was regularly seen as reflecting what happened to the people. He was their very breath (Lamentations 4.20). We can also compare how Isaiah saw Israel and Judah as a desperately plagued person who needed restoring (Isaiah 1.4-6).
But in the end everyone who sang it saw it as referring to himself, as one among the people of God, and saw it in the light of his own blessings.
We may see the Psalm as dividing up as follows;
An Expression Of Gratitude To YHWH For His Deliverance From Death (30.1-3).
The Psalmist praises God for having raised him up (verse 1) and healed him (verse 2). He had been very conscious of two things while he was ill, firstly that his opponents had been waiting, hoping that he would die so that they could then rejoice over his coffin and pursue their own ends, and secondly of the gaping jaws of the grave that had been waiting to receive him and had been seeking to drag him in. But he recognised that God in His goodness had thwarted both and had spoiled their hopes. God had triumphed on his behalf. His soul had not, of course, actually been in Sheol, it was just that it had seemed to be so as he lay there in his fever, for God had ‘kept him alive’, and had not allowed him to go down into the Pit. The ideas of Sheol (the grave world) and the Pit are parallel. They are the places where the dead go.
Note the parallel ‘I will exalt you’ because ‘you have raised me up’. He cannot raise up God, for it is God Who is the giver, but he can at least lift up His Name in order that it might be exalted. And that he will do with all his heart.
He Calls For All The People To Join With Him In His Gratitude (30.4-5).
He is so grateful to God for his deliverance that he calls on all the people who are true to God (His holy ones) to give thanks with him. The ‘memorial of His holiness’ may well be the Ark which was seen as the throne of YHWH and the place of reconciliation. But only because it was itself seen as drawing attention to the power and glory of YHWH. Or it may be the Most Holy Place itself, which could not be entered (except on the Day of Atonement) because the holiness of YHWH was represented there. In either case, however, he was looking beyond it to the heaven of heavens where God was enthroned in glory in His holiness (1 Kings 8.27; Isaiah 57.15).
Verse 30.5a is literally, ‘For a moment in His anger, life in His favour,’ signifying that His true people may ‘experience His chastising anger for a moment when they have sinned, but that in the end those who are ‘in His favour’ will enjoy life’. Here was a first foundation for the future promise of eternal life. And while the night time may bring weeping, the morning will undoubtedly bring joy. That is the lot of all who are truly His. He is giving praise for God’s continuing faithfulness and care for His own (compare Hebrews 12.11).
He Reminisces On The Complacency That Had Been His When He Was Well And The Shock That His Illness Had Been To Him (30.6-7).
In a few short words the Psalmist brings out his own, and man’s complacency. When all is going well men think that nothing can affect them, especially if they are prospering wealthwise. And yet he acknowledges that he had overlooked the fact that it was God Who in His favour and compassion had made his mountain stand strong. This may reflect the strength of Jerusalem, which was David’s city, and that he was secure because God had made him so. Or it may simply indicate that the mountain of his personal life had been made strong. But either way he had grown complacent, had forgotten what he owed to God, and had begun to see himself as invulnerable.
But then God had hidden His face from him, and all his troubles had begun. What a shock it had been to his system. Suddenly he had realised that he was mortal. What an important lesson that is for us all to learn.
His Prayer For Deliverance (30.8-10).
So the Psalmist’s cry reaches up to God. It is possible that we should see the initial verb as a historic present, making the picture vivid. ‘I am crying to you, O YHWH’. But the main point is that his plea is to YHWH.
In the depths of his illness his argument is simply that if he dies he will be able to praise YHWH no more. It is the prayer of someone very ill who has at this moment little time for theology. He is down to the basic practicalities. ‘In my blood’ simply means ‘in my death’. The point is that in the grave he will not be able to praise YHWH, nor will he be able to testify of Him.
His Final Praise And Thanksgiving Because He Had Been Delivered (30.11-12).
But then all had changed. The sickness had left him, and he was conscious of a new beginning. His mourning had been turned into dancing, which was certainly not the behaviour of a sickly man. He had been restored to strength. And God had removed his sackcloth, the sign of his mourning, and had instead girded him with gladness. Compare Isaiah 61.1-3 where the coming of the Anointed Prophet would also introduce such joy and gladness. The Good News of God always brings gladness.
And the resulting end of his experience will be that in his own glory as the king, which was the result of God’s goodness to him, he will sing praises to YHWH, and will not be silent. As far as he is now concerned YHWH is his God, and he will give thanks to Him for ever.
This is the Psalm of a man who has suffered deeply for his faith, is facing persecution, and is yet quietly confident in God. He opens the Psalm by committing himself to God for deliverance (1b-2a), and then calls on Him to be his refuge and stronghold, and to deliver him from his adversaries (2b-4). Handing himself firmly over to God, he confirms that he has no God but YHWH (5-6), and affirms his confidence in His covenant love, and in the fact that God knows his ways and will lead him in a large place (7-8).
But that this attitude is one of triumphing over difficult circumstances comes out in that he then goes on to bewail the sad state in which he has found himself over the years, including the fact of his own iniquity (9-10), and to bemoan the fact that because of the calumnies of his enemies no one wants anything to do with him, and some even want to take his life (11-14). He has been treading a hard path.
Some have seen in this a picture of David in the wildernesses of Maon and Engedi as he hid from Saul, comparing ‘in my haste’ (verse 22) with ‘David made haste to flee’ (1 Samuel 23.26). Certainly David must have experienced some of what is written here. But we obtain the impression here of a period of some years of trial and hardship, which may put that interpretation in doubt. Others have therefore connected it with Jeremiah. Certainly he too had to constantly endure. We can, for example, compare verse 10 (‘my life is spent with grief and my years with sighing’) with Jeremiah 20.18, (‘why did I come forth from the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?’); verse 12 (‘I am like a broken vessel’) with Jeremiah 19.11; 22.28; 48.38 where the similar idea of a broken vessel is used; verse 13 (‘I have heard the slander of many, fear on every side etc’) with Jeremiah 20.10, (‘I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side etc’); verse 17 with Jeremiah 18.18; verse 22 with Lamentations 3.54. These possible similarities may, however, simply indicate Jeremiah’s familiarity with the Psalm, even if that.
But whoever he was, the Psalmist is a man who has a firm trust in God, and he now assures God that he is totally relying on Him and knows that his times are in His hands, and on this basis he pleads for deliverance from the persecution that he is facing (15-16).
He then calls on God to look on him and vindicate him so that he might not be ashamed, seeking rather that that shame will come on those who deserve it because of the way in which they behave (17-18), and he follows this up with a firm expression of his confidence in the goodness of God towards those who fear Him, a goodness which results in His protecting them in His own pavilion, and this in spite of the Psalmist’s own momentary lack of faith when he had thought himself as cut off from God’s eyes (19-22).
The Psalm then ends with him giving encouragement to all God’s people on the basis of what he himself has experienced of God’s goodness and saving mercy (23-24).
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David’
This psalm is one of a number dedicated to the Choirmaster, or ‘chief musician’. What this actually signified we do not know. Possibly the choirmaster originally had his own collection of psalms and hymns. Compare the Davidic Psalms 4-6, 8-9, 11-14, 18-22, 36, 39-41, etc. A good number of non-Davidic Psalms are also dedicated to him. Again we are faced with the question as to whether ‘for David’ is a reference to David himself, or whether it refers to the wider Davidic house.
The Psalmist opens by affirming his confidence in YHWH, and asking Him to be his refuge. He then asks that He will never have to face the shame that would result if God did not act as his refuge, and follows it up by asking YHWH in His righteousness to deliver him. He thus puts himself squarely on the side of righteousness, for that is the grounds on which he expects YHWH to deliver him. The idea of delivering in righteousness is common in Isaiah. It includes the fact that God delivers men in His righteousness, and in the process makes them righteous.
He now calls on God to ‘bow down His ear to him’ and deliver him speedily, and because He is his rock and fortress, He asks Him to excel Himself by being to him a strong Rock, and a mighty Stronghold (a house of defence). He is fully confident in God’s protection. And then, because He is such a stronghold, he wants Him to lead him and guide him for His Name’s sake. Indeed he asks that YHWH will pluck him out of the net laid secretly for him by his enemies. His full confidence is put in the protective power of God.
With that in mind he commends his spirit to God because he knows that it is YHWH the God of truth Who has redeemed him. God has, as it were, paid a price that he might live by exerting His power on his behalf. It should be noted that he is not here commending his spirit to God because he expects to die, but because he wants to live. This is in contrast with Jesus’ use of the words in Luke 23.46, although it is equally significant in that context. And he then confirms that he wants nothing to do with false worship, and indeed hates those who participate in it. Rather he trusts wholly in YHWH. We gain the impression that the people who were trying to trap him in their secret nets were indeed such false worshippers. But with God’s help he has escaped them and emerged triumphant.
And as a result of trusting in YHWH he is filled with gladness and rejoicing at His covenant love, that love which was the cause of Him establishing the covenant (‘I am YHWH your God Who delivered you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’), and which now continually reaches out to His people through the covenant. For he is aware that in His love YHWH has seen his affliction, knows precisely what he is going through, and rather than delivering him up to his enemies, has set his feet firmly in ‘a large place’.
In other words in his need God has not let him down, but has protected and established him because He is his covenant God, and has made full provision for him.
But suddenly his expression of confidence cease to be replaced by a plaintive cry as he considers the years that have gone by which have been filled with sorrow and sighing, and with an awareness of sinfulness. He is filled with deep distress. Indeed he feels that he is wasting away with sorrow. And this is essentially seen as connected with his own sinfulness. This suggests that in the previous verses he has been praying ‘through gritted teeth’, and that he is triumphant in spite of having a difficult life, not because he is having an easy one, and now he faces up to the present reality.
And this adversity is not only in the privacy of his own soul, but also involves the behaviour of others towards him. As a result of the activity of his adversaries he has become an especial reproach to those who are close to him, while even his acquaintances are afraid to be seen as connected with him and flee from him when he walks around in the open. He has become a marked man so that to be seen as acquainted with him is to risk having to suffer along with him. This is the common experience of Christians in some countries today, and has always been so.
He then describes himself in terms of being totally forgotten like someone who has died, and as being like a useless vessel that has been smashed and tossed away. Men no longer see him as having any significance, or want to have any dealings with him. Indeed many are defaming him, there is fear on every side, and there are even those who are taking counsel to put him to death, and are trying to think of ways of bringing it about.
We are reminded here of how true this was of Jesus. Disparaged, defamed on every side, deserted by disciples, and plotted against by the rulers of the people, He might well have thought in terms of this Psalm.
But in spite of all his troubles he is triumphant. He has gritted his teeth, trusted in YHWH, and reminded Him that He is his God, and now he stresses that his times are in His hands. He has no doubt of God’s care over him and of His final control. And so again he prays for deliverance from his enemies, and from his persecutors.
His confidence somewhat restored the Psalmist now calls on God to look favourably on him and do him good, ‘make your face to shine on your servant’. As long as God’s face shines on him he does not care what men do to him. So he pleads His ‘covenant love’, His mercy and compassion, and calls on Him to act so that he himself will not be shamed as a result of His failing to do so. For he recognises that having called on Him in this way any failure of God to act would bring shame on him. But it is rather the wicked who should be put to shame. So he prays that it is they who might die and end up in the silence of the grave, and that their lying lips might be made forcibly dumb, because they speak insolently against all who are righteous with pride and contempt.
Now the Psalmist, fully restored in his thoughts and filled with a sense of God’s goodness, gives praise to God. He exalts in the greatness of that goodness, a goodness which God has stored up for those who fear Him, and which He has wrought for those who take refuge in YHWH, and that before the sons of men. So God is now seen as active on behalf of all His true people, and he is confident that as a result God will hide His people from the plottings of men in ‘the hiding-place of His face’ (the place where God meets only with those who are His own), and will keep them hidden away in His pavilion where none can hurt them, safe from the activities of men’s tongues.
So he blesses YHWH who has revealed His marvellous covenant love towards him ‘in a strong city’ where he can be safe, and that in spite of the fact that in his desperate haste he had said, ‘I am cut off from before your eyes’. For YHWH had graciously ignored his despair, and had heard the voice of his supplication.
The strong city may be Jerusalem, and this may therefore refer to David having come through all his trouble to find himself now established in the stronghold of Jerusalem, or alternatively it may be indicating that God Himself is a strong city for those who trust in Him.
The Psalm finally closes with a cry to all God’s people, His ‘holy ones’, to love Him truly, and that because He preserves those who are faithful, while at the same time pouring out abundant judgment on those who behave arrogantly. God’s people are thus to be strong, and to take good courage, because their hope is in Him.
This Psalm was probably written by David some time after his sin with Bathsheba. It describes the agonies of conscience that he went through before finally confessing his sin to God, and the subsequent relief that he experienced once he had done so and had found forgiveness. Intermingled with it are words spoken to him by YHWH promising that He will in future act as his guide if he will be responsive to the reins (verses 8-9). For the principle behind it compare Proverbs 28.13; 1 John 1.7-10.
‘A Psalm of David. Maschil.’
Thirteen Psalms are called Maschils, but we do not know precisely why. It could relate to the idea of instruction (compare the use of the cognate verb in 32.8, ‘I will instruct you’) or it could refer to having ‘understanding’ (maschil - 47.8) or indicate that it is a meditation. Thus we may see it as instructing us so that we gain an understanding of God and His ways. Or it may indicate a particularly tricky musical rendering. The fact that some are described as ‘a Maschil of David’ might tend to counter the last suggestion.
This Psalm is a very moving one. It seems to refer to David’s experience when he had sinned with Bathsheba, a sin that caused him deep uneasiness within, so much so that at length he had no alternative but to go to God and have it dealt with. And the result was that he came through to a position of peace and blessing. This then resulted in God beginning to speak to him again, so that in the end he could call on all God’s people to be glad in the Lord and rejoice
The Psalm can be divided up as follows:
He Praises God For The Fact That He Has Been Forgiven (32.1-2).
The Psalmist opens the Psalm with praise to God for the fact that he has been forgiven, his sin has been covered and he has been declared as righteous by God as a result of the removal of the imputation of his sins. All this was because his sin had been ‘covered’, that is, hidden out of sight. We note that there are three words used in order to describe his sins. ‘Transgression’ means ‘to rebel against God’. ‘Sin’ means ‘to miss the mark’. ‘Iniquity’ refers to inward moral distortion and depravity. He is thus conscious that he has been rebellious, that he has come short of the mark, and that he is sinful within. And as a result he recognises three responses from God. The first is forgiveness, the second is the covering of his sin as under a blanket, and the third is the non-imputation of his iniquity. In other words he is forgiven, he is seen as blameless through the merciful action of God, and he is counted as righteous before God’s throne of judgment. But this is only because he has first come openly to God (he is guileless of heart) and has openly admitted to his awareness of his guilt
2). He Describes the Period When He Had Been Unable to Find Rest in His Heart Because God’s Hand Was On Him Giving Him No Peace (3-4).
All who truly know God will understand this experience. He had sinned, and now he could find no peace in his heart. He tried not facing up to it and keeping silent, but it did not work. He felt as though his bones were wasting away as a result of his groaning, and day and night he was conscious of God’s hand weighing heavily on him, with the result that he felt drained of moisture like a man who was baking in the continually burning sun in the depths of summer. Compare Job 33.19-21, ‘he is chastened also with pain on his bed, and with continual strife in his bones, so that his life abhors bread, and his soul choice meat’.
For a similar effect on the bones see 6.2; 22.14; Proverbs 17.22. For His hand heavy on him see 38.2; 39.10. For the whole compare Hosea 7.14, ‘they have not cried to me with their heart, but they howl on their beds’. Compare also 22.15; Proverbs 17.21.
The Psalmist Comes To His Senses and Acknowledges His Sin Thus Finding Forgiveness (5).
Coming at last to his senses David acknowledged his sin to God, and did not hide anything from Him. In other words He began again to ‘walk in the light’ (1 John 1.7). He was totally open with God. And once he had genuinely said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to YHWH’, he was conscious that God had forgiven Him his sins. ‘If we walk in the light as He is in the light -- the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).
The verb for ‘hide’ is the same as for ‘cover’ in verse 1. It guarantees that if I uncover my sins to God, then He will step in and cover them so that they are remembered no more for ever. The words for transgression, iniquity and sin are also as in verses 1-2.
It has been suggested that the Psalm is lacking because there is no reference to the grace of God, but David was undoubtedly conscious of the fact that for the kind of sins that he had committed his only hope lay in the grace of God. Strictly they warranted immediate judgment. And what he is therefore expressing here is the wonder of God’s grace, freely given on his coming to Him. He was relying totally on the mercy and active compassion of God.
4). He Expresses His Confidence That Anyone Who is Godly Can Similarly Come to Him in Times of Trouble, Emphasising that God is His Hiding Place, The One Who Surrounds Him with Songs of Deliverance (6-7).
The Psalmist now turns his thoughts outwards and asks that all the godly might similarly seek God for the forgiveness of their iniquities. He does not want them to suffer as he has. Nor does he want them to face unnecessary trouble, or final judgment.
‘In a time when you may be found.’ Literally ‘in a time of finding’. This may mean:
‘Surely when the great waters overflow, they will not reach to him.’ Here he may have in mind Noah’s flood when only Noah and his family were in a place where they could not be reached by the great waters. Or we might compare Isaiah 43.2, ‘when you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you’. In Psalm 144.7 deliverance from great waters involved being delivered from deceitful ‘strangers’ (compare Jeremiah 51.55). It is sinners who will be overwhelmed by the great waters (Isaiah 28.2, 17; 30.28; Nahum 1.8).
The thought of verse 6 leads him to apply the idea to himself. YHWH is his refuge and hiding place, He will preserve him from trouble, He will surround him with songs of deliverance. The latter indicates that he is not alone in being delivered. He will be surrounded by a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7.9; 14.3). For YHWH as a hiding place see 27.5; 31.20; 91.1-2.
5). He Hears God’s Voice Again Promising to Lead Him in The Right Way, Although Requiring That He Respond to His Guiding Hand (8-9).
God now speaks to David (it is YHWH who gives David counsel - 25.8, 12; 16.7; 73.24). We have only to recall other mentions of His silence (28.1; 35.22; 39.12; 83.1; 109.1) to recognise how much it meant to David to be aware that God was speaking to him. For a while He had been silent as David had refused to acknowledge his sin and failure, but now that reconciliation had been made God can speak to him again.
His promise is that He will instruct him and teach him in His way. We can compare here Deuteronomy 17.18-20 in order to recognise that this includes the idea that David will receive his guidance through God’s word.
‘I will guide you with my eye.’ The idea in mind here is where the servants of the king are watching him awaiting his instructions, so that he has but to indicate with His eyes and they know exactly what to do. So David had to keep his eye on YHWH and be open to His instruction in the same way. We too, if we wish to walk in His ways must allow Him to guide us with His eye.
Others suggest that it is indicating that God’s eye is upon him, as in 33.13, 18, ‘YHWH looks from heaven, He beholds all the sons of men, from the place of His habitation He looks down on all who dwell on earth -- behold the eye of YHWH is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.’ ‘The eyes of YHWH are towards the righteous, and His ear is open to their cry’ (34.15). Compare Jeremiah 24.6; 32.19.
God then warns him against not responding to Him freely. He does not want him to be like a horse or an ass which because of their lack of understanding have to be brought to bridle. Unless such experience the bit and bridle they will avoid their duties. But David is to have understanding, and is to respond freely without bit or bridle, simply in response to God’s eye.
‘Do not be as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding.’ Elsewhere the unrighteous nations are seen as being like wild beasts, in contrast with God’s people who are like ‘a son of man’ (e.g. Daniel 9). The whole idea is that man in his sin is like a brute beast. He has no genuine awareness of God or of divine things.
6). He Emphasises The Fact That The One Who Trusts In YHWH Will Be Surrounded With Mercy (10).
David sums up his experience in a simple statement. Those who are wicked, (unresponsive to YHWH as David had been), will experience many sorrows, but those who respond to YHWH in faith and trust, will be surrounded by His lovingkindness and mercy, His covenant love. Here David makes clear his dependence on the grace of God, as well as the dependence of others. It is not by doing good that they will be surrounded by His lovingkindness, but by trusting in Him, but the very word lovingkindness. signifies love within the covenant and thus assumes a covenant response in David.
7). He Calls On All The Righteous To Be Glad In YHWH, and For Those Who Are Upright In Heart To Shout for Joy.
The Psalm finishes with a joyous call for all who are His to be glad in Him and to rejoice with shouting. Note their description as ‘the righteous’ (covenant-keepers) and ‘upright’. There is no such call to those who are still in their sins. For this idea of rampant rejoicing compare 5.11; 33.1; Nehemiah 8.10; Philippians 3.1; 4.4; 1 Thessalonians 5.16.
In 32.7 the Psalmist declared that he would be surrounded by songs of deliverance. Psalm 33 is one of those songs of deliverance. It will be noted that it takes up where Psalm 32 finishes off, urging rejoicing and praise from the righteous and the upright. As we will see as we go through the Psalm, it may have been written in thanksgiving as a result of some great deliverance from national peril, although if so there is no way of identifying which one. On the other hand it may just be an ode in recognition of the sovereignty of God.
It can be divided up as follows:
1). Introductory Call to Praise (1-3).
2). The Grounds For Praising YHWH (4-12):
3). A Declaration of God’s Sovereignty Over The World (13-19).
4). Final Words. The People Wait On YHWH And Hope In Him (20-22).
1). The Introductory Call to Praise (1-3).
This is a call to make a loud noise so that all may know that they are praising YHWH and giving Him thanks, using every means at their command.
Once again it is the righteous and upright who are called on to give praise and thanks to YHWH, and to sing aloud and make a loud noise. Indeed for the upright it is ‘comely’ (seemly, beautiful) to do so. He is to be praised in every way possible. There can be no true participation in His worship by those who are not upright and righteous, at least in intent. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.
Note the musical instruments that are called into play, the harp and the ten-stringed guitar. They are to use them without restraint in His praise. And they are to sing a new song, compare Revelation 5.9; 14.3, because He is continually doing new things for them.. Indeed the idea that the people of God should continually be creating new songs in response to His new mercies is common in Scripture. See 40.3; 96.1; 98.1; 149.1; Isaiah 42.10.
2). Grounds For Praising YHWH (4-12).
The first reason for praising God is because of what He is. The word of YHWH is right (or ‘upright’), He does nothing that will not help to fulfil His purposes of goodness and love; His work is done in faithfulness, so that He can be totally relied on; He loves righteousness and justice, and the earth is full of His lovingkindness.
‘His word’ signifies what He wills to do, He speaks and His purposes go forward (compare Isaiah 55.11-13). His work is what is accomplished through His word, the fulfilment of His purposes. And all is done because He loves what is right and just, and because the earth is filled with His lovingkindness (compare Matthew 5.45, ‘He sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’).
The word of the Lord is not only right and effective in the carrying out of His will, but it is also the means by which He made the heavens. It was important that men realise that all that is in the heavens was created by YHWH. ‘He made the stars also’ (Genesis 1.16). Indeed they were made by His word and His Spirit. ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made and all their host by the breath (Spirit) of His mouth.’ Compare John 1.3, ‘the Word -- all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’. Genesis 1.2, ‘the Spirit of God hovered over the waters’. ‘He spoke’ and it was done (Genesis 1). Note how the word and the Spirit are in close alliance through the ‘breath’.
Picturesquely he then goes on to portray YHWH as establishing the earth by gathering up the seas in a heap, and placing them in storehouses, and the tense reminds us that He continues doing so. Thus are they kept within their bounds by Him. ‘In a heap’ might have in mind what happened at the Red Sea (78.13; Exodus 15.8), as one of many examples of His control of the sea. However, the Versions, on the basis of the same ancient Hebrew text, use another pointing and translate ‘as in a wineskin’ (nod instead of ned), paralleling this with Job 38.37. The picture is then of an all-powerful YHWH carrying the seas in His wineskin preparatory to putting them in storage. Compare Isaiah 40.12 for a similar vivid picture, ‘He has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with a span - the span of His fingers - and assessed the dust of the earth in a pint pot, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance.’
And the result is to be that the whole earth will fear His Name and all its inhabitants will be in awe of Him, for at His word all was accomplished, and at His command all was established. He was sovereign in creation through His word and at His command (compare Amos 4.13; 5.8; 9.6).
The third reason for praising YHWH is because He brings the counsel of the nations to naught. Whatever they plot against His people will come to nothing. Their thoughts will be of no effect. In contrast His counsel and thoughts are permanent and effective into the distant future, for all generations, and will accomplish all His will.
In contrast to the helplessness of the nations before YHWH, the nation whose God is YHWH are blessed. (They are not just happy, they are positively blessed). They are the people whom He has chosen for His inheritance, and they will enjoy all the benefits of His care and watch over them.
3). Declaration of God’s Sovereignty Over The World (13-19).
The Psalmist then reminds us of God’s sovereignty over the world as He looks down on it from heaven. Compare Psalm 22.28, ‘for the Kingly Rule is YHWH’s, and He is the ruler over the nations’. He see all the sons of men, as He looks continually forth from His dwellingplace on all the inhabitants of earth (compare 11.4; 14.2; 102.19, 20). And it is He Who fashions all their hearts (He ‘works within them to will and do of His good pleasure’ - Philippians 2.13; compare Zechariah 12.1, ‘He shapes the spirit of man within him’), and considers all that they do. Nothing escapes His attention. ‘All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4.13).
The stress here is on the fact that whatever happens on earth, it is all under His control. Men look for deliverance to their armies and weapons of war, the champion looks to his great strength, the cavalry look to their mighty horses, but all are failing instruments. Unless He determines it they will fail in their purpose. For in the end deliverance or otherwise belongs to YHWH. Napoleon said that God was on the side of the big battalions. God agreed, but declared that it was He Who has the big battalions.
‘There is no king saved by the size of an army.’ It may appear so from an earthly point of view, but if so, it was only because it was within YHWH’s purposes. How then can men be certain that they will be saved? And the answer is by trusting in YHWH. ‘Who is like to you, saved by YHWH?’ (Deuteronomy 33.29). Compare 20.7, ‘some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will make mention of the Name of YHWH our God’; see also 44.3 ff.; 60.11-12.
‘A horse is a vain thing (literally ‘a delusion’) for safety, nor does he deliver any by his great power.’ Powerful and swift though a horse may be, it cannot totally be relied on. Once again it depends on YHWH’s will and purpose. Compare Proverbs 21.31, ‘the horse is prepared against the day of battle, but victory is of YHWH’, and Isaiah 31.1, 3, ‘woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and stay on horses and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek YHWH -- the Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit’. We must therefore put our trust in One Who is God and Who never fails.
What matters for those who would be delivered is that they have YHWH’s eye upon them (32.8; 34.15), and that they are united with Him within His covenant, so that He can show them His covenant love and His faithfulness towards them. He it is, and not their fast horses, who can deliver a person from death, and can keep them alive in famine. As well as war, famine was a common problem in those days, compare 37.19; Isaiah 51.19; Jeremiah 18.21.
4). Final Words. The People Wait On YHWH And Hope In Him (20-22).
The Psalm approaches the end of the Psalm with a declaration that His people have ‘waited’ for Him. They have looked to Him in confident expectation, both as their help and their shield, the One Who gives them powerful assistance, and the one who protects them from all that their adversaries can throw at them. And they have done this both by rejoicing in Him with their whole beings (their hearts), and by trusting in Him for what He is (trusting in His holy Name). So in view of this they pray that His covenant love, that love which caused Him to choose them and set His Name on them, may truly rest upon them in accordance with their hope in Him.
‘Our soul has waited on YHWH.’ The word for ‘wait’ is not the one often translated as ‘wait’, but also occurs in 106.13; Isaiah 8.17; 30.18; 64.4 etc. The idea is the same.
Like Psalm 25 this is an alphabetic Psalm with each stanza beginning with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. Interestingly, like Psalm 25 (which see) it omits the letter Waw, and has a second P which commences the last stanza, with, in both cases, the P resulting in the use of the verb ‘to redeem’. We have no certain explanation as to why this should be although it is clearly deliberate. The intention was probably simply in order to highlight the fact that the singers were His redeemed people.
Alternately it could be that the author’s name began with P and that he was signing off with it and wanted to indicate that he felt that he himself had been redeemed. This might then indicate that the same man wrote both Psalms. A further alternative is that we might see it as having a dual reference as mysteriously indicating ‘redeemed from the Philistines’, although, having said that, there is no real reason that we know of for connecting Psalm 25 with the Philistines. But such ideas are all highly speculative and pure guesswork.
The Psalm is one of thanksgiving and praise. Its heading is a further mystery. It indicates that the Psalm was written having in mind David’s deliberate change of behaviour before the ‘king’ of Gaza, a Philistine city, when he feigned madness (1 Samuel 21.10-15), but there is not a great deal in the Psalm to indicate that, which may be seen as a strong argument for its genuineness. However, having said that, verses 4 & 5 could have had that deliverance in mind on behalf of David and his men, and ‘this poor man’ in verse 6 could refer to himself in his desperate expedient, with verse 7 then indicating how he felt that YHWH had protected him. So it is not wholly devoid of connection.
‘A Psalm of David; when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.’
As mentioned above the only connection between the heading and the Psalm is found in verses 5-7. Certainly it must have been a dreadful shock for David and the few fugitives who had fled with him when they arrived in Gaza hoping to find refuge there, only to face the fact that some of the leading figures were intent on seeking his life (1 Samuel 21.11 onwards). To feign madness when he was eventually brought before the king of Gaza must have been humiliating for him, although he and his men no doubt had a good laugh about it afterwards. That he was willing to do it demonstrates the extreme tension that he must have felt. ‘I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears. They (he and his companions) looked on him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed (as they would have been had He failed to fulfil His promises of protection)’ (verses 4-5). And thinking back to when he was alone in the king’s presence feigning madness and scrabbling on the floor, the description ‘poor one’ (verse 6) must have seemed an apt description. Furthermore on escaping back to his companions we can well imagine that he felt that YHWH had surrounded him with His angels (verse 7). How else could his precarious plan have succeeded? The lesson well learned may then explain the remainder of the Psalm.
There is also a seeming problem with the name Abimelech, for the king in question was Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 21.10-15), but if Achish was at the time the leader of the coalition of five Philistine states he may well have been given the ancient title ‘Abimelech’ (my father is king, or Melech is my father), which appears to be a throne name of certain Philistine kings (Genesis 20 and 26).
What is more to the point are evidences of wisdom teaching in the Psalm from verse 11 onwards. ‘You children’ was a common address by Wisdom teachers (Proverbs 4.1; 5.7; 7.24 and regularly), and ‘the fear of YHWH’ a prevalent expression among them (Proverbs 1.7; 9.10; 15.33, etc.). See also the ideas in Proverbs 10.27; 13.3; 21.23. On the other hand David need not have written it immediately, and his later court may well have included renowned and godly wisdom teachers, while this would also help to explain what led on to Solomon’s growth in the subject and subsequent ‘worldwide’ fame.
The Psalm may be summarised as follows:
1). Words In Praise Of YHWH (1b-3).
The Psalmist commences, as Psalmists so often do, with praise and worship to YHWH. They were clearly aware that it was their responsibility and privilege to approach Him in this way. Before going into detail they recognised that they should remind themselves of Who He is. And here the praise is ‘at all times’ and ‘continually’. He will even praise when everything is against him. Missionaries used to describe it as ‘praising the Lord through gritted teeth’.
So he declares his intention to give YHWH full praise and gratitude, acknowledges that the truly spiritual (the meek) will hear of it and be glad because they rejoice when YHWH is worshipped, and it makes them realise that they have a godly leader, and then calls on these truly spiritual people to join with him in his worship. All are to come as one, worshipping YHWH together. All have equal status before Him. And together they are to ‘magnify’ YHWH. But how can mere men magnify and make great YHWH of hosts? By acting like a magnifying glass or a microscope, and bringing to men’s attention the greatness of the One of Whom we speak. We can ‘ascribe greatness to our God’ (Deuteronomy 32.3) and exalt Him by proclaiming His glory.
2). He Rejoices In The Delivery Of Himself And His Men (4-7).
If the heading of the Psalm is seen as an indicator this may well reflect David’s relief that his subterfuge before Achish worked. No doubt as he scrabbled on the floor feigning madness he had been flashing pleas to YHWH. And here we learn of his profound gratitude when he safely left the king’s presence, delivered from all his fears (the tension must have been huge). His prayers had been answered.
And we can quite understand that when he went back to his companions (1 Samuel 21.5), who must have been waiting in some trepidation, desperately calling on YHWH, and they saw that he had come away with his life, their faces became radiant as they looked to YHWH with praise and gratitude. Compare how the people’s faces were to be ‘lightened’ in Isaiah 60.5 when they saw God working out His deliverance. And David then adds with confidence that while they remain true to YHWH and His Anointed they will never be confounded. We can compare with this Peter’s appearance at the door of the house where people were praying for his deliverance in a similar situation (Acts 12.12-17). They too were filled with joy, and no little amazement.
And for us all it is an indication that if we are loyal to Him, and look to Him, He will deliver us from all our fears, when we seek His face. We too will thus be able to look to Him and be radiant, and be confident that we will never be confounded while He is our Lord. We too will hear His voice saying, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of YHWH has risen upon you’ (Isaiah 60.1, 5).
David was duly humbled by his experiences, which, although he may not have realised it, were preparing him for greater things. And when he thought back on how he had escaped from Saul, and now from Achish, he recognised his own weakness and helplessness in both situation, calling himself a ‘poor man’, lowly in the sight of God and of men. He recognised himself for what he was. There was no pretence or arrogance with David. He openly acknowledged his own undeserving, and that he stood with the meek of verse 2. But he also recognised the goodness of YHWH towards him, and was full of gratitude. Isaiah tells us in a similar vein that ‘God dwells in the high and holy place -- with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite one’ (Isaiah 57.15).
His experience had brought him out into a large place, for it had made him realise that while Achish had been surrounded by his fierce warriors, he himself had had even mightier protection. He had been under the protection of the Angel of YHWH, Who had delivered him from all his troubles, in spite of their magnitude. It had brought home to him that all who feared YHWH were ‘surrounded’ by the Angel of YHWH, the very active presence of YHWH, and could therefore be sure of deliverance. Compare how Paul also tells us that ‘your lives are hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3). We too are ‘surrounded’ by the Angel of YHWH . We are reminded here of the three men thrown into the fire because they stood firm for God, only to find themselves accompanied there by one who was like the Son of God Who kept them safe from harm (Daniel 3.25).
The Angel of YHWH is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. He can speak of himself as YHWH, and yet is in some ways differentiated from YHWH (see Genesis 16.10, 13 in context; 21.17-18; 22.11; Exodus 23.20; Judges 13.16-18; Zechariah 1.12-16; 3.1-2). He is called ‘the Angel of His presence’ (Isaiah 63.9). And there is inter-personal communication between the Angel and YHWH (Zechariah 1.12). In this figure we have revealed to us, along with the mention of ‘the Spirit of YHWH’, a first indication of the triunity of God.
3). He Calls On The People To Taste Of YHWH, And To Learn To Fear Him (8-11).
34.8-11 T ‘Oh taste and see that YHWH is good,
David’s experience now turns his thoughts to all who fear YHWH. They too can taste and see that YHWH is good, by taking refuge in Him, just as he had when in the presence of Achish. It is such a one who will be truly blessed (compare 27.13). It is an indication of His love towards us that He allows us to put Him to the test in this way as long as our heart is true. He is not unwilling to be put to the test by a genuinely seeking heart (see 1 Peter 2.3). It is only the testing of the rebellious that causes Him to be angry (Exodus 17.2). Note the term ‘strong man’ (gbr). The ‘poor man’ of verse 6 has now become strong because he is taking refuge in YHWH.
Then confident that all who ‘taste and see’ will discover the truth of his words and experience the goodness of YHWH, he calls on them as ‘His holy ones’ (those who are His holy people (Exodus 19.5-6) and have genuinely separated themselves to Him and to the covenant) to fear YHWH, recognising that for those who do so there will be no lack. If we ‘seek first the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness’ everything will be added to us (Matthew 6.33). It was as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New.
The ‘young lions’ are the young lions approaching their full strength who have no responsibility but to look after themselves. They do not yet have a pride to look after. All the animals fear them and leave any carcases to them as soon as they approach, and they can keep anything that they find for themselves. Thus they have everything going for them. And yet even they can sometimes suffer hunger, in spite of their great strength and ferocity. Even they can seek food and not find it. But how different it is for those who are strong in YHWH (verse 8). Those who seek YHWH will not lack for any good thing. Whatever the circumstances He will provide for them (compare again Matthew 6.33). Note that the promise relates to ‘good things’, that is what God thinks is good for them. It is not a rain cheque on God. It is a guarantee to meet what He sees as their real needs (compare Matthew 7.11 where the same idea in mind).
‘Come, you children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of YHWH.’ The Psalmist now calls his ‘children’ to listen to him while he teaches them the fear of YHWH which has been described in 9. The young lions go hungry because they do not fear YHWH but the children of the lion of Judah (Genesis 49.9) will not need to do so if they fear YHWH.
It was a difficult decision as to whether to link this stanza with the previous ones or the ones that follow, for the pattern of Proverbs might be seen as suggesting the latter (see Proverbs 4.1; 5.7; 7.24; 8.32 and compare for the idea Proverbs 14.26). And certainly the moral exhortations which follow might be seen as teaching ‘the fear of YHWH’, a phrase which occurs fourteen times in Proverbs. But there are three things which make this doubtful:
Indeed this stanza may reasonably be seen as satisfactorily capping off the two exhortations in verses 8-9, while at the same time contrasting the young lions in verse 10 with his ‘children’ (the young lions with the children of the lion of Judah, see Genesis 49.9).
4). He Points Out To Them The Way To True Life (12-14).
The Psalmist now raises the question as to how a man may enjoy a long and true life. This is the Old Testament equivalent to the quest for eternal life, the life that is God-given (compare 16.11, ‘you will show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures for evermore’; 30.5, ‘in His favour is life’). And he then describes the kind of man who will find that life. The idea in mind here is found in Leviticus 18.5, ‘You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments, which if a man do, he will live in them. I am YHWH.’ The thought was to have the quality of life that would extend life. Such a person would both live long and see much good. The words are literally, ‘loving days for seeing good’. They want to live long for the good that they can do.
He then outlines in detail something of what such living would involve. They were to keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking guile. In other words, their tongues were to speak in openness and honesty and for men’s genuine good. Their ‘yes’ was to be ‘yes, and their ‘no’ was to be ‘no’ (Matthew 5.37). There must be no deceitfulness and lying, no tale-bearing, no backbiting and cruelty of word. Every word should be surrounded by love. This emphasis on spoken words becomes a New Testament theme. ‘The tongue -- is a little member -- which is set on fire by Hell’ (James 3.5-6). So ‘let your words always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer every man’ (Colossians 4.6). Because ‘for every idle word that men shall speak, they will give account of them in the Day of Judgment’ (Matthew 11.36).
They were to ‘depart from evil and do good’. Compare Isaiah 1.16-17, ‘wash yourselves thoroughly, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well’. It is not enough just to ‘stop sinning’. The real test of whether we have become His is whether our lives make a positive contribution towards good. ‘By their fruits you will know them’ (Matthew 7.16, 20). For ‘to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin’ (James 4.17).
‘Seek peace, and pursue it.’ Finally they were to search out peace, and then chase it as hard and as persistently as they could like the hunter his prey. All dissension, all disharmony, and all bitterness was to be disposed of and removed. ‘Let us follow after things which make for peace’ (Romans 14.29). ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God’ (Matthew 5.9).
5). He Stresses YHWH’s Deep Concern For His Own And His Deep Hatred Of Evil (15-20).
Note the interplay of ideas in these verses. ‘The eyes of YHWH are towards the righteous and His ear is open to their cry -- the righteous cried, and YHWH heard and delivered them out of all their troubles -- many are the afflictions of the righteous, but YHWH delivers him out of them all.’ Those who are His righteous ones are never overlooked or forgotten’ He hears their cry, and they are characterised by being of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. They know how to forgive and be forgiven.
‘The eyes of YHWH are towards the righteous, and His ears are open towards their cry.’ Compare ‘my cry before Him came to His ears’ (18.6). All God’s faculties are at work in watching over His own, as characterised by their righteousness. His eye is continually on them and towards them. They are the apple of His eye (17.8). Compare 33.18. And His ears are equally busy on their behalf. They are open to their cry (see 118.62). For the whole compare 1 Peter 3.12.
‘The face of YHWH is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’ But there is no comfort in his words for the selfish, the wrongdoer and the unbelieving. For in their case ‘the face of YHWH’ is against them. In their case He is active to bring them into judgment. Instead of lives which count and live on in their reputation and in men’s memories, their lives will be cut off and forgotten. They will have done nothing worth remembering. If we would build a monument, let it by lives whose effects will echo down the ages, because their influence goes on and on in those who have been affected.
‘The righteous cried, and YHWH heard, and delivered them out of all their troubles.’ The Psalmist returns to the righteous and will now concentrate on them. The evildoers are already forgotten. He now looks back and, as it were, sees the accomplishment of what he had promised. The righteous had cried, and YHWH had heard, and He had delivered them out of all their trouble. Strictly it is ‘they cried’ with the righteous read in from verse 15. It was as certain as if it had already happened.
‘YHWH is near to those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite spirit.’ Lest any be in doubt he now characterises the righteous. They are those whose hearts are broken over their sins and their failures, and whose spirits are contrite. It is they who dwell with YHWH in His high and holy place (Isaiah 57.15), and as a result He ‘saves them’. Salvation is of YHWH, and is reserved for those who are open towards Him.
‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but YHWH delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken.’ The point here is not that no one who is righteous will ever break a bone in their bodies, but that their afflictions will not be ‘bone breaking’. They will not be crushed. Through them all they will be kept ‘whole’. For YHWH gives the righteous no guarantee that they will avoid affliction. Such things will come on them, sometimes even because they are righteous. But when they do they will find that YHWH’s eye is on them (verse 15), and He is there to help. ‘I will not leave you without strength, I will come to you’ (John 14.18). And in the end He will deliver them out of them all.
‘He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken.’ Unbroken bones characterised the offerings that were made to YHWH. They had to be perfect and complete. See Exodus 12.46; Numbers 9.12. So the point here is that spiritually the truly righteous will come through unscathed, whatever life throws at them. A combination of these verses is cited in John 19.36, stressing the perfection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
(6). He Declares The End Of Sinners And Of His Servants (21-22).
The Psalmist finally summarises all that has gone before with a verdict on the unrighteous and the righteous, the latter especially being highlighted by the letter that commences the stanza. It is the letter of redemption. The unrighteous will be slain by evil. That is, they will come to a bad end (compare 73.17). And this will especially be so of those who are antagonistic towards the righteous. They will be condemned. But in contrast YHWH is ready to pay any price in order to deliver the righteous. None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. ‘There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit’ (Romans 8.1). Note the combination of redemption and taking refuge. Both words indicate what the needy state had been of those to be delivered. They are what they now are because of His mercy. And it is redemption that is the key word that begins the stanza. It is free to them because of the price that He would pay (compare Isaiah 55.1-3; 43.1; 44.22; 51.11; 59.20; Jeremiah 31.11).
‘A Psalm of David’
This is the Psalm of a man who is being hard pressed by his enemies who are seeking to accuse him falsely and maliciously before the courts of the land. But it is quite possible also that his life was literally in danger, for he calls initially for deliverance from his enemies in words put in military terms, and this may suggest that they had at first sought to attack him in other ways before they brought him to court. So we may see the Psalm as applying to any situation where a man is in danger because of his faithfulness to God.
Initially then his call is to God for personal protection, and then he prays that God will vindicate him when the case eventually comes to court.
Some have seen it as written by David with respect to his treatment by Saul, and some of the jealous men who composed Saul’s court. On this basis we may see it as follows:
However, although he may well have done so, we do not know of David actually undergoing the kind of trial described in verses 11, 15-16, 19-21, thus the Psalm may refer to a later son of David. It does, however, make this a prayer which will bring comfort to any who are falsely accused because of their loyalty to God, whatever the particular danger involved, because all those who follow Christ are warned that such things could happen to them in one way or another (Matthew 10.17-22, 26-28, 33, 34-36).
The Psalmist Asks That God Will Protect Him And Stand Firm In His Defence (35.1b-3).
In these first three verses we have a vivid picture drawn of God dressed in heavenly armour, and fully armed. He is to take up His larger shield for diverting the missiles of the enemy, and also his smaller shield necessary for hand fighting, together with His divine spear, and He is to stand ready to defend His servant, while at the same time giving him the assurance that He will certainly save him. We can compare this picture with the idea of the Captain of the Lord’s host with the drawn sword in His hand (Joshua 5.5.13-14), and that of the Mighty Warrior in Isaiah 59.16-17, the Redeemer Who would come to Zion (59.20). In each case it is God Who will fight on His people’s behalf against all His enemies, and bring salvation to His own. See also Isaiah 49.2 of the Servant of YHWH, Who is to be the Lord’s Instrument, and 63.1 ff. where as a Warrior His judgment will be carried out on His enemies, a picture finally completed in Revelation 19.11-16 in the description of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For further descriptions of YHWH as a man of war Who fights on behalf of His own see Exodus 15.3; Deuteronomy 32.41-42.
We are reminded by these verses of a small group of missionaries who had gone among a hostile cannibal tribe, and had taken shelter in a hut, fully alive to the hostility of the tribe around them, and waiting in trepidation for the attack that they knew must surely come, for they were very much aware of the mutterings and threats that were going on, and even of one or two movements towards the hut during the night that came to nothing. All night they waited, praying with their hearts in their mouths, their only surprise being that nothing occurred. And then to their greater surprise the next day a deputation came in peace, and on arrival looked around and asked, ‘Where is the great white hunter who stood armed on guard outside your hut last night?’ These men then went on to explain that they had gathered together during the night in order to kill the missionaries, only to be held at bay by a fearsome figure Who had stood on guard outside the hut all night, accompanied by a number of companions, so that they had not dared to approach. And because they were afraid of the great white hunter they wanted to make peace. Subsequently on returning to the UK the missionaries were approached by a group of godly Christians who asked them if they could remember anything special happening on such and such a date, and when they checked their diaries they discovered that it had been the very night of their experience. It appears that God had urged on that group of prayer warriors to a special time of prayer for these missionaries, and what was even more strange was that the number of those who gathered for prayer turned out to have been identical with the number of the companions of the great white Hunter described by the tribespeople. They had learned that, ‘The angel of YHWH encamps round about those who fear him, and delivers them’ (Psalm 34.7), and that He still does it today.
Important men today are followed about by armed men who are ready to protect them at all times with their lives. It should remind us that when we go out as Christians who are walking faithfully with Him we can have the assurance that we are accompanied by the Lord of Hosts Himself, dressed for battle, and especially when times are hard.
The Psalmist first calls on YHWH to stand up on his behalf, and fight his cause. Only those whose lives are totally committed to His service have the right to pray such a prayer. They have the right because they are His servants. The word ‘strive’ can also be translated ‘plead my cause’ as in verse 23, and this is probably its meaning here as he pictures the coming battle for his vindication in military terms.
The ‘shield’ was the large shield with which arrows and spears were deflected. The buckler was the small hand shield which gave protection in hand to hand battle. He wanted YHWH with both these two shields (completely armed) to stand up for him and provide him with help. And he also asked Him to draw out His divine spear so as to stop his pursuers in their tracks.
‘Stop the way.’ The Hebrew is s’gor, ‘stop’. (‘The way’ is read in. It is not there in the Hebrew). Some see it as an ancient word for a weapon like a battleaxe (‘a stopper’) that halts men in their tracks. This translation would then provide two attacking weapons to compare with the two defensive shields. On the other hand translating it as ‘stopping the way’ by treating it as a verb parallels ‘stand up for my help’.
But above all he wanted to hear YHWH saying to Him, ‘I am your Saviour, your Salvation’. He wanted the assurance of God’s personal delivering power, and he wanted it in His own words. This is the word also that comes to us when we put our trust in Jesus. We hear His voice saying, ‘I am your salvation’.
He Calls on God By His Angel to Drive His Enemies Back and Put Them to Flight (35.4-6).
Not content with the fact that YHWH will stand with him to protect him, he calls on Him to pursue his enemies and do to them what they are trying to do to him.
‘ Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonour, who seek after my soul.’ The thoughts of his enemies were concentrating on bringing him to shame and dishonour, so he calls on YHWH to do the same to them. Let them receive what they are trying to pile on him.
‘Let them be turned back and confounded, who devise my hurt.’ Notice the two parallel statements so typical of Hebrew poetry. First shame and dishonour, now turned back and confounded. The metaphor is still military. They want to hurt him, thus let they themselves therefore be hurt as they are beaten back and put to rout.
‘Let them be as chaff before the wind, and the angel of YHWH driving them on.’ Indeed he wants them to be like the chaff, the outer husk, from the grain which is taken up by the wind and carried away as the grain is tossed up into the wind by the winnowing fork. No, he wants more than that, not just a wind from the Lord but the mighty Angel of YHWH Himself. Let Him drive them on as chaff before the wind.
The idea of the Angel of YHWH occurs throughout the Old Testament as descriptive of God’s ‘other self’. He acts in God’s Name, yes even is God, and yet He also communicates with God. See Genesis 16.7, 9, 11, 13; 21.17; 22.11, 15; Exodus 23.20, 23; Judges 2.1, 4; 6.12, 20, 22; 13.9-21; Isaiah 63.9; Zechariah 1.11, 12, 13; 3.1). Along with ‘the Spirit of God’ He is an expression of the triunity of God. It was He Who had driven the Canaanites out of Canaan (Exodus 23.20). Who more suitable then to be the One Who will ‘drive on’ his enemies now?
‘Let their way be dark and slippery, and the angel of YHWH pursuing them.’ Having driven them on he wants the Angel to pursue them like an avenging angel, as they slither and slide over the wet mountain passes, or on the steep limestone slopes, as the night draws in. If it was David speaking he had probably often seen the enemy in such a case. Being blown away like chaff, and slithering on the wet passes as they scurry to make their escape, indicates the uselessness and helplessness that he wants them to feel. This may have in mind the literal trouncing of his enemies in battle, or it may be metaphorical for their trouncing in court. It can apply to any situation where God’s people are facing an enemy, and God renders the enemy helpless.
He Asks That Those Who Are Hunting For Him Might Fall Into The Trap That They Themselves Have Set So That Once More He Can Rejoice in YHWH’s Salvation (35.7-10).
This movement from the battle ground to the hunting field might serve to confirm that the pictures are metaphorical, unless this actually was a battle strategy of his enemies.
He sees his enemies as having dug a pit in which they have concealed a net with the aim that he will fall into it unawares, and be caught in their net. And the doubly-stressed point is that they have had no real cause for doing so because he is innocent. And so he prays that his enemies too may be caught unawares, and taken in the net that they themselves have laid, so that they might be destroyed. We note that the principle is being constantly repeated that what a man sows, that he should also reap. The picture of the men being taken unawares by the trap, and being filled with surprise as they fall into their own net is quite vivid. And the result will be their own destruction. Compare Jeremiah 18.20, 22, ‘shall evil be recompensed for good? They have dug a pit for my soul’.
And the result for him will be that he will be saved from his enemies by the One Who had declared, ‘I am your salvation’ (verse 3). Thus will his soul be joyful and rejoice. From the centre of his being (his bones) he will ask ‘who can compare with YHWH, who delivers the poor and weak from the strong and mighty, and from those who would seek to rob him?’ This idea of the deliverance of the poor and needy is a common one in Scripture. For they are the ones who most tend to look to YHWH, while the better off do not feel that they need Him. But in the end all who seek Him must be of a humble and contrite heart. That is why when God has truly blessed someone, one sign of it will be that they are poor in spirit (Matthew 5.3). It is the humble and contrite of heart who alone can dwell with the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity ( Isaiah 57.15).
‘Who is like unto You?’ Compare Exodus 15.11, ‘Who is like to you, O YHWH, among the heavenly beings, who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders’. And Micah 7.18, ‘Who is a God like to you, Who pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?’ None compares with Him either in power or in goodness. He is the Incomparable.
For the poor and needy as descriptive of the righteous see 37.14; 40.17; 86.1-2 and often. They are the poor and needy in soul as well as in body.
Brought Before the Judges He Is Questioned About Crimes Of Which He Knows Nothing, And That By Those To Whom He Had Shown Nothing But Kindness Who Are Now Determined To Bring Him Down (35.11-16).
The scene now changes to the court room. He is asked questions about crimes of which he knows nothing, and that in the face of hostile and false witnesses. And the very men who are doing it are those for whom in the past he has shown great concern. They are rewarding him evil for good.
Brought before the court he finds that many false witnesses are called who testify of him having done things of which he was totally unaware. They were falsifying evidence and seeking to blacken his name. This was by men to whom he had shown nothing but kindness, and yet they were now seeking to make him bereft of soul. It is not an uncommon experience of the righteous. It would later happen to the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself. For it is the way of sinful man to hate goodness even while praising it.
He describes the kindness that he had shown to these men when they had been in trouble. When they were sick he had dressed himself in sackcloth, a sign of mourning and self-affliction in order to show his humility. He had afflicted his soul by going without food. Compare Jeremiah 18.20, ‘Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away the anger from them’.
Indeed his prayers for them had been as passionate as if they had been members of his own family or his close companions. He had mourned over their needs with the same intensity as he would have mourned the loss of his mother.
‘My prayer returned into my own bosom.’ This could be read as meaning that by praying for others he himself was blessed as well, and that is certainly always true when we pray, but in context it more likely means that his prayer was as intense as if he was praying for his own loved ones, those of his bosom.
And what recompense did he now receive for the love that he had shown to them? Instead of having compassion for him they rejoiced in the difficult situation in which he found himself. They delighted that he was as one lame, limping along. Indeed they gathered together to oppose him, and not only did so, but also gathered together the ‘abjects’, the lowest level of society, against him. It was partly from among these that the false witnesses would come. And this had taken him completely by surprise. They were people whom he neither knew nor recognised. Some would translate as ‘the smiters’ (the word is a rare one), signifying those who smote him and his reputation with their words. Either way the idea is similar. His reputation was being torn to shreds. Compare Jeremiah 18.18.
‘They tore me and did not stop.’ He had had to endure a constant barrage of lies and accusations, a barrage that went on and on. They had rent him as though they were beasts of prey (compare Hosea 13.8), and they had done it unceasingly.
Once again we are reminded of our Lord, Jesus Christ who suffered such contradiction of sinners against Himself. He too faced false accusations, and the antagonism of those who should have been His friends, and face it unflinchingly.
‘Like the profane mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.’ This appears to have in mind the buffoons who would be rewarded for their antics at feasts by being offered food which they would immediately hungrily devour. In the same way these who opposed him were like buffoons sought hungrily to eat him up.
Concerned By How Long His Affliction Is Going On He Points Out How False Their Accusations Are and Asks For Deliverance From Their Attempts To Bring Him Down (35.17-21). .
Patient endurance under affliction is ever the test of the man of God. Compare Roman 5.3-5; James 1.2-3, and the Psalmist is no exception. He is concerned at how long his troubles have been going on. They seem interminable. How long, then, can God look on and not interfere?
So he prays that he may be delivered from their attempts to destroy him, that he night be delivered from these wild beasts who have come together against him. And he promises that when he is delivered, then he will go into the great assembly and offer his thanks, he will go among large crowds of people and offer praise. He will give all the honour to God.
These his enemies anticipate rejoicing over what they see to be his imminent downfall, they hope to wink at each other with they eye as they consider what they have achieved. Proverbs tells us that it is the worthless person who winks with the eye (Proverbs 6.12-13), for ‘he who winks with the eye causes sorrow’ (Proverbs 10.10). It is a sign of those who are behaving in an underhanded way.
But the Psalmist prays that it might not happen. He asks, ‘let it not be’. Notice, however, that this is on the basis that it has no real justification. He is not about to get what he deserves. These people do not have a reasonable cause, they are behaving dishonestly. And they reveal it by devising deceitful words rather than speaking peace. They are not interested in a fair result, but in getting their own way. And they do not only do it against the Psalmist, they do it against all who are at peace and causing no trouble in the land. Dishonest accusations are rife.
And so their mouths are opened wide as they accuse him (compare Isaiah 57.4), and they insinuate that they have seen what they are speaking about. The picture is graphic. They say, ‘Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it’, either as though they had come across it by surprise, or else were emphasising how they had caught him out. Compare the winking of the eye. It is all an act put on to catch him out. None of it is reality, it is a show put on for the judges.
He Calls On God To Vindicate Him, By Punishing Those Who Are Against Him, And By Rewarding Those Who Take Up His Cause, At Which Point He Will Make Known To All What God Has Done For Him (35.22-28).
The Psalmist is confident that YHWH see all that is going on, and he calls on Him to act on that basis. This is the confidence that all who live truly can have, that God knows the way that they take, and all that befalls them in it, and will thus in His own good time act on their behalf.
So he asks Him not to remain silent, (compare 28.1 where it is translated, ‘do not be deaf to me’), and to be close to him in his trials. For ‘be not far from me’ compare 22.11; 38.21; 71.12. Indeed he calls on Him to ensure that he receives the justice due to him, and to uphold his cause. He is not asking for favours, but for justice. He is asking Him to act ‘according to His righteousness’. Note the proliferation of titles, ‘O YHWH’, ‘O Lord’, ‘my God and my Lord’, ‘YHWH my God’. He is calling on the Judge of all the world to do right (Genesis 18.25).
‘Let them not rejoice over me.’ It cannot be right that an unjust cause should triumph, for then righteousness will be the loser.
The Psalmist is concerned that the unrighteous will not be able to gloat. He does not want them to be able to say, ‘Aha, we have got our way’ (literally ‘Aha, our desire’). He does not want them to be able to gloat over the fact that they have swallowed him up. Compare 124.3; Proverbs 1.12; Lamentations 2.16. They rejoice at his hurt, so let them too be hurt, let them be ashamed and confounded. They magnify themselves against him, so let them instead be clothed with shame and dishonour. His desire is that they get what they deserve, the very opposite of what by underhand means they are seeking for themselves. Compare verse 4 where the same idea is in mind, and see 40.14. Continually he want right to prevail. He is as much concerned for the honour of God as he is for himself.
And it is because the honour of God is concerned that he anticipates support from the godly. He asks YHWH that those who support his righteous cause might be able to shout for joy and be glad at its success, because they will give honour to YHWH for supporting such a righteous cause and delighting in the welfare (literally ‘peace’) of His servant, and having pleasure in his ‘peace’. The wellbeing of His servants brings glory to YHWH (as paradoxically so does their suffering for a righteous cause).
And the result will be that his tongue will ‘speak musingly’ of His righteousness. It will be something to continually meditate on and rejoice over that YHWH’s truth and righteousness have triumphed. And on top of that he will speak musingly of His praise all the day long. The result of his vindication will be that the praise is given to YHWH. And this should ever be the case.
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of YHWH.’
This Psalm might be called ‘the Ode to the Covenant Love of YHWH’. For after its initial grim beginning it expands into a threefold expression of YHWH’s covenant love as it is revealed towards His own.
In it the Psalmist contrasts ‘the oracle of the transgression of the wicked’ (verses 1-4), which reveals the whole truth about man’s sinfulness spelled out in detail, with the truth of the covenant love of YHWH, the latter being emphasised in a threefold way. Thus he stresses first His attributes of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justness (verses 5-6); then His wonderful benefits provided to men (verses 7-9); and finally his own confidence that through YHWH’s love he will be delivered from the kind of men described in the initial verses.
A number of Old Testament sections begin with ‘the oracle of so and so’. Here it is ‘the oracle of the transgression of the wicked’. Transgression ‘speaks’ the oracle and gives warning to the Psalmist’s heart. The normal use in the Hebrew forbids our taking it as meaning ‘concerning the transgression of the wicked’. Rather Transgression is seen as personified and as the proclaimer of the oracle.
The Transgression of The Wicked Speaks To The Psalmist’s Heart Alerting Him To The Sinfulness Of Man (36.1-4).
In these first four verses ‘the Transgression (rebellion) of the wicked’ speaks like a prophet to the Psalmist’s heart concerning the wicked. It declares that there is no ‘dread fear’ of God before the eyes of the wicked (compare the citation of these words in Romans 3.18 where it sums up man’s sinfulness). In other words the wicked are not moved by YHWH’s covenant requirements, or the need to obey Him, or the fear of judgment, because they dismiss Him from their thoughts. They treat His desires lightly. Indeed the wicked man convinces himself that his iniquity will not be found out. He convinces himself that, even though God hates his iniquity, it will not receive its deserts, for he has no recognition of a living God who sees and knows all things.
The behaviour of the wicked is then spelled out in detail;
It is clear from this that he loves the evil and hates the good. He does not necessarily declare this openly, but it is what lies within his heart. He lives his life without God, and chases after sin.
In Contrast To What Transgression Offers YHWH Offers Compassion, F Faithfulness, Righteousness, Justice, and The Preservation of Life (36.5-6).
In contrast with the five aspects of the hearts of those who follow iniquity are the five attributes of the heart of YHWH. Notice that the contrast with sinfulness is not in terms of the goodness of the righteous, but of the goodness of their God. It is He Who lifts up the righteous and makes the righteous what they are. They are like that because He has personally ‘blessed’ them (Matthew 5.3-9; Philippians 2.13). Thus to Him must be the glory.
The Five Attributes of YHWH.
So God’s love and faithfulness (compare 57.10; 103.11), His righteousness and justice (compare 9.8; 33.5; 37.6; 72.2), and His life-giving and life-preserving qualities, are so vast that they are beyond man’s ability to fully comprehend. They are wider than the heavens, higher than the stars, greater than the mountains, deeper than the sea. We can compare here Ephesians 3.18-19, speaking of the work of the Spirit within which makes known to us the love of God and of Christ, and makes it a part of us. ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, to the end that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God’.
What The Covenant Love Of God Offers To All Who Respond To Him (36.7-9).
We now turn from what God is to what He offers. Note the change from YHWH to God, even though the offering is still of His covenant love. His offer is universal, for it is to all ‘the children of men’ (compare Ruth 2.12).
Here is the alternative life of the people who respond to God instead of to ‘transgression’. As a result of His precious covenant love revealed towards them they:
Furthermore it was from His light that His people obtained guidance, assurance and truth. ‘The entrance of Your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple’ (119.130). ‘Your word is a lamp to my way, and a light to my path’ (119.105). ‘He lightens the lampstand of His people and lightens their darkness’ (18.28). ‘They look to Him and are lightened, and their faces are thus not ashamed’ (34.5). ‘Oh send out your light and your truth, let them lead me’ (43.3). In His light they see light.
YHWH is also elsewhere compared by David with the glorious light of the noonday sun. ‘He will be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises, a morning without clouds’ (2 Samuel 23.4). But to the Psalmist YHWH outshines the sun, and His light shines on His people, revealing truth and making them righteous too. ‘He will make your righteousness go forth as the light, and your just dealings as the noonday’ (37.6). That is why Jesus could say, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5.16).
And we need not doubt that it includes the thought of the light of YHWH’s favour. The Psalmists regularly speak of ‘the light of His countenance’ as shining on His people (4.6; 44.3; 89.15; 90.8; compare Proverbs 16.15) as they enjoyed the favour of God.
For us the light shines even more clearly. Not for us the dim light of the Tabernacle lampstand, but the glorious light of Him Who is ‘the light of the world’, Who gives the light of life to His own (John 8.12; 12.35-36, 46; 1.4, 9). ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14), so that we see ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4.6). As He said, ‘I am come a light into the world, so that whoever believes in me may not continue on in darkness’ (John 12.46), ‘but will have the light of life’ (John 8.12).
The Psalmist Prays That Nothing Might Be Allowed To Drive Him Away From YHWH’s Covenant Love (36.10-12).
Having emphasised the wonderful attributes of YHWH (5-7), and having considered the munificent benefits that He abundantly gives to His own (8-9), the Psalmist now prays that nothing might drive him away from the covenant love of YHWH.
36.10-12 ‘Oh continue your lovingkindness to those who know you,
Finally he prays that YHWH will reveal His covenant love and righteous deliverance towards himself and all who are truly upright. Note that it is assumed that those who truly know Him will be so. It is not possible to truly experience His compassion and righteous deliverance without it being so.
And he wants to be protected from the proud. He does not want their foot to come against him. Nor does he want the hand of the wicked to drive him away from YHWH’s presence, or from his livelihood (see Micah 2.9; Job 15.21). Or it may be a prayer that he might not become a beggar, and thus be kicked contemptuously and be thrust from the presence of the wicked (compare Amos 2.6; 8.6). For he has confidence that these men who work iniquity will shortly fall. They will be thrust down and not be able to rise
A Psalm of David.
This Psalm is another one that is based on the Hebrew alphabet, with each stanza beginning with a different letter commencing at aleph, and follows a 6 6 5 5 pattern (22 letters). Exceptions are verses 28b and 39 where in the MT a Lamed precedes the Ayin and a Waw precedes the Tau.
In the Psalm the Psalmist speaks almost as a wisdom teacher as he encourages God’s people to have full trust in YHWH in the confidence that all will then finally turn out for good. If they find themselves in the midst of puzzlement and despair because the unrighteous appear to triumph let that not turn them aside from themselves trusting in YHWH and doing good. For if they do trust Him and continue to do good then they will enjoy His blessing indeed.
The Psalm split up into a number of sections:
1). The Wise Thing To Do Is Not To Fret When The Wicked Appear To Prosper, But Rather To Trust And Rest In YHWH (Aleph to Waw - 37.1-9) .
Those who are wise will not allow fretting or anger to possess them in the face of the behaviour of the unrighteous, but will instead trust in YHWH, commit their way to Him, and then confidently rest in Him, for they can know that what they have is permanent, while what the unrighteous have is temporary and will pass away (compare Matthew 6.19-20).
It is often so easy to look around at the prosperity of evildoers and find it a great burden on the heart. It all seems so strange. Why do the wicked prosper, and the good suffer? Why does evil appear to triumph? However, the Psalmist tells us not to fret at such things, nor to be envious of those who work unrighteousness. Rather than fretting we are to turn to trusting prayer, rather than being envious we are to consider all the blessings that are ours in God.
For he reminds us that the unrighteous are not really to be envied. We should remember that their time is but short in the light of eternity. They may appear to be prospering, but the truth is that they will soon be cut down like mown grass, and will wither like the green herb subjected to the burning sun. For them there is no future, and their ‘blessings’ are but temporary. After that before them lies only darkness and emptiness.
Notice the threefold command in verses 3-7, ‘trust in YHWH’, ‘commit your way to YHWH’, ‘rest in YHWH’. Here is the secret of the spiritual life. First trust and response to God, then commitment of our ways to God resulting in confidence in Him and obedience, and finally rest and contentment as we do trust in Him.
The first thing that we note is that the one who trusts in YHWH and delights in Him, and thus ‘does good’, the One Who dwells in the Lord’s land and walks in His presence and feeds on His faithfulness, and delights himself in YHWH, will receive the desires of his heart. And what are the desires of his heart? They are that he might know YHWH better and rejoice in the light of His countenance and presence, and that he himself might be enabled to shine as a light in a dark world, that men might see his good works and glorify his Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16). And these blessings he knows that he will receive in all their fullness.
‘Delight yourself in YHWH.’ Certainly it is good for us to meditate on Who He is and on His love, and to delight in Him as our Father and our God, but in parallel with the next foursome (compare also Isaiah 58.14) perhaps we should translate (equally permissibly) as ‘So shall you delight yourself in YHWH’, linking more directly with trusting in YHWH. Then the thought is that our trust in Him is what results in our delight in Him. Both ideas are of course equally true and valuable. We should delight in Him because we trust Him and rely on Him, and we should also delight in Him for His own sake.
‘Feed on His faithfulness.’ Just as the contented sheep enjoy the green pastures provided by Him (Psalm 23.2), so should they feed on His faithfulness, knowing that as a result they are safe from all their enemies and will receive all that they need (compare John 10.27-28).
And as he trusts in YHWH and delights in Him, he is also to commit his way to YHWH. This is literally ‘roll your way on YHWH’. The burden may be too heavy to lift, but it can be rolled onto YHWH. Then the Christian can know that in response to his trust and commitment, YHWH will take over responsibility for his burden and will bring about His will with regard to it. He will indeed bring him in the way that his hearts seeks. He will make his righteousness go forth as the light, shining forth on men so as to enlighten others and enable them to rejoice in the glory of God. And he will make the Christian’s ‘justice’, his truth and rightness, to be like the noonday, glorious and unshadowed in any way. ‘Reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, they will be changed from glory into glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3.18) as they walk in God’s light (1 John 1.5-7).
So rather than fretting at what they cannot understand, they are to rest in YHWH. They are to wait patiently for Him to intervene and Himself bring about His purposes and His will, confident that all is in His hands.
The literal Hebrew is ‘be silent to YHWH’, that is, be still before Him in the calmness and certainty of faith. ‘In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30.15; compare Isaiah 7.4).
What they are not to do is fret at the prospering of the wicked, the men who bring about wicked devices, and do crafty things, even though God allows such people to have their evil way for a time. They must wait patiently for God and not allow themselves to be gripped by anger. If it arises within them they must quell it. They must ‘cease from anger, and forsake wrath’. For the only person whom they will harm by their anger is themselves. They must not fret themselves, for the only result of that will be that they also do evil. And then they will be just as bad as those about whom they are fretting.
This does not mean that we should not be concerned about injustice against others, especially the weak and the poor. It is the building up of passions within ourselves that is to be rejected. Where we can actually intervene and bring about good in love and righteousness we should certainly do so. But we must remember that ‘the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God’ (James 1.20). And meanwhile we must ‘bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who use you badly’ (Luke 6.27-28).
Indeed we must rather remember that such evildoers will be ‘cut off’, and must therefore ourselves steer clear of such a catastrophe by living for Him and in His ways. For in the end it is those who wait for YHWH, those who are patient because their trust is in Him, who will finally ‘inherit the land’, that is, will receive all the good that God has promised. The wicked may appear to hold sway for a time, but in the end it is God’s people who will triumph and who will indeed one day possess all things.
Probably in mind here is what happened when God’s redeemed people entered Canaan. Their enemy were cut off from among them. But then they dallied in the ways of the Canaanites and in the end they lost out on the land. In contrast those who waited for YHWH did finally inherit the land. God’s ways might move forward slowly, but in the end they are very sure.
For the time will certainly come when the unrighteous will wither and die, they will cease to be. Though such a man be sought for with great diligence, he will have vanished. He will have gone to face his judgment (consider the rich man in Luke 16.22-24).
But the ‘meek’, those who are trusting God and refusing to be stirred to anger, will ‘inherit the land’ (compare Matthew 5.5). They will delight themselves in an abundance of peace. Good will triumph because God will triumph. And those who are trusting in Him will receive the fullness of His promises and of His blessings.
The idea of ‘inheriting the land’ had in mind God’s promises to Abraham, that one day the land to which God had called him would one day belong to his seed (Genesis 12.2-3, 7). And in the days of David and Solomon it did happen. The land was theirs from one end to the other. But the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Abraham was not actually looking for that. He was actually looking for a better land than that. He did not seek a ‘continuing city’ in this world, he sought one above, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.10). He looked for a better country, which is a heavenly. He looked for a city which God has provided for those who love Him (Hebrews 11.14). For in his heart he was looking for what this world could not offer. And there in that land there will indeed be an abundance of peace.
2). The Triumphs Of The Unrighteous Are Temporary, And For Them Retribution Will Come, While The Righteous Have An Eternal Inheritance To Be Enjoyed Both Now And In The Future (Zayin to Lamed - 37.12-22).
In a series of contrasts the Psalmist now brings out the activities of the unrighteous and what will finally result from them, and contrasts this with the activities of the righteous and the confidence that can be theirs. The emphasis is on the fact that God ensures in the end that righteousness triumphs and unrighteousness does not go unpunished.
The Psalmist first makes clear that for the unrighteous to plot against the righteous and bare his teeth against him, is for him to do the same to God. God is mindful of what is done to His people. But the Lord’s response is simply to laugh at such folly, for He can see ahead and He knows that the day of retribution for the unrighteous is coming. Then they will gnash their teeth in another way. Thus His people also can have the confidence that, however badly they behave against them, the unrighteous will in the end receive their just reward. Their sin will find them out.
The point here is to emphasise the folly of those who go against God. It is not to suggest that God treats His people’s sufferings lightly. He is not laughing at those. Nor is it to suggest that God enjoys punishing the unrighteous. We read elsewhere that ‘The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he might turn from his wickedness and live’ (Ezekiel 33.11). The warning is rather that rebellion against God is futile, and that if men will not repent then only judgment awaits them. For the kind of laughter described here compare 2.4.
In this further contrast the unrighteous are seen as priming their weapons in order to cast down the poor and needy, and slay the upright in heart (note the parallel between the poor and needy and the upright, bringing out that when the Psalmists speak of ‘the poor’ they often simply mean the righteous). How different they are to God’s Servant Whose sword and bow are intended only to do good (Isaiah 49.2).
But God’s response is to turn the swords of the unrighteous on themselves, so that they enter their own heart, while their powerful bows He simply breaks. Such weapons are futile against God. It is a reminder to us that whatever ‘weapons’ people bring to bear on God’s people, they will in the end be turned back on themselves.
37.16-17 T ‘Better is a little that the righteous has,
We now have an explanation as to why the righteous are so much better off than the unrighteous. The unrighteous may have abundance of wealth, about which they make a great show, but they can be sure that in the end their arms will be broken. They will be rendered powerless and disabled. Meanwhile although the righteous may only have a little wealth, and walk in quiet humility, they can rejoice in the fact that they are upheld by YHWH. They are secure within His care.
For everything about the righteous, those who are mature in God, is known to God. He knows their days, and He guarantees their eternal inheritance. And what is more, when the hard times come they will not be put to shame, and when famine arrives God will ensure that their needs are met. For they are ever in His hands. As Jesus reminded us, ‘Your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things’ (Matthew 6.32).
In contrast the unrighteous have no future. They will simply perish and will be consumed like the fat of animal sacrifices that is burned up on the altar and is no more, rising up in smoke and evaporating into nothingness.
The unrighteous are contrasted with the righteous by the way in which they approach their possessions, In the one case they obtain it by greed and unfairness and are cut off and in the other they dispense their possessions freely and thus ‘inherit the land’, that is, enjoy all God’s future provision.
The one who borrows and does not repay is a common phenomenon, especially in the case of private debt. he is careless about his responsibilities, and threats other people’s losses lightly, especially when he can gain by it.
How great is the contrast with the righteous man who sees his possessions as a means of blessing and helping others, especially the poor.
‘For such as are blessed of him will inherit the land, and those who are cursed of him shall be cut off.’ Verse 9 demonstrates that the ‘He’ in these verses is referring to YHWH. As a result of the righteous blessing them they too will inherit the land because they will respond by righteousness and God will bless them (they will be blessed of Him and inherit the land, compare verse 9; Matthew 6.5). They respond to the righteous man’s beneficence by responding to God. However, those whom God curses are those who do not dispense their possessions, but rather obtain the possessions of others by deceit. They are the undeserving who gather for themselves ‘unrighteous mammon’. They are thereby ‘cursed’ and are thus cut off.
3). The Reward And Ways Of The Righteous Are Sure And Abiding (Mem to Pe - 37.23-31).
The Psalmist goes on to point out God’s care for those who are truly His. All their ways are in His hands, and He upholds tham and keeps them and provides for them all that they need.
The ways of a righteous man (a true believer) are in the hands of YHWH, and God establishes all his goings. Indeed He delights in his way. He watches over him and cares for him, He strengthens him and upholds him, He has great joy of heart when His people walk in obedience to Him, and delights in their desire to do His will. And though sometimes they may stumble, and even fall, His promise is that they will never be utterly cast down. For He will uphold them with His hand. He will lift the fallen, carry His lambs in His arms, and gently lead His troubled and burdened sheep (Isaiah 40.11; compare John 10.27-28).
Alternately we may see it as ‘he (the believer) delights in His way’. The true Christian rejoices in all the ways of God. Both are of course true.
The Psalmist thinks back to his own experience, and what he has seen of life. And he declares that although he has lived long years, he has never seen the truly righteous forsaken by God, he has never seen their children begging bread. Rather the righteous have been able to deal bountifully with others, have been able to lend to them when they were in need, and his offspring, far from having to beg, have been blessed.
Of course, exceptional circumstances do arise in life when all without exception do go in hunger and experience the privations of life. War and natural disasters do not pick and choose. But His promise is that even in such times He will watch over His own and proved for them in accordance with their need, and many a Christian has experienced deliverance in such circumstances.
In response to God’s love for them, the Psalmist calls on believers, and indeed on all men, to depart from evil and do good, and God’s promise is that if they do so they will ‘dwell for evermore’. That is, they will enjoy long life and security through Him. The departure from evil and doing of good is necessary because God loves justice and righteousness, and the dwelling for evermore results because God never forsakes His ‘holy ones’ (saints, the true people of God). Rather He preserves them for ever. It is only the seed of the wicked which will be cut off. In contrast the righteous will inherit all God’s promises (as typified in ‘the land’) and will dwell in the place of His blessing for ever. Their everlasting future is certain.
The Psalmist closes this section with a positive statement about those who truly love God and trust in His Name, describing the kind of people that they are. Their mouths speak wisdom (compare Proverbs 10.31), the true wisdom; their tongue speaks what is right and true. In their hearts they hold firm to God’s Instruction, and the result is that none of their steps will slide. These are promises and ideas that we must each one take for ourselves, and ensure that they are true of us. It is because of this that man will be judged by his ‘idle words’ (Matthew 12.36). For those who are truly Christ’s speak words which are glorifying to Him, while those who are not soon reveal their folly in what they say.
4). The Contrast Between The Behaviour And Destinies Of The Righteous and Of The Unrighteous (Tsade to Tau - 37.32-40).
The Psalmist concludes his Psalm by making contrasts between the lives and destinies of the righteous and the unrighteous.
It is one of the traits of the unrightous that they cannot bear those who are ‘too righteous’. Thus they seek to do them harm, and even get rid of them. But God’s promise is that He will not leave His righteous ones in the hands of the unrighteous. Nor will He Himself condemn those who are His, simply because they are falsely declared guilty by men. He is not bound by men’s verdicts, and knows how often they are perverted. This is especially so in countries where bribery and influence can be brought to bear on the sourcs of ‘justice’.
So the righteous must wait patiently for YHWH and walk truly in His way. Then they can be sure that in His own good time God will lift them up and will cause them to ‘inherit the land (or earth)’. That is, He will give them the full desire of their heart. To ‘inherit the land’ was the dream of every Israelite. It was to gain all that they could want. As for the unrighteous, they will be cut off, and the tighteous will see it. In other words, in the end all will see God’s justice fulfilled.
An example is now given. The ageing Psalmist looks back over his life and can think of many times when the unrighteous have been in positions of great power and influence. They had spread themselves like a green tree does in its natural environment. But one day passers by notice that they have gone. They cannot be found anywhere. They have been ‘cut off’.
So let men observe those who are true to their God and are upright, those who walk in His ways. To these ‘men of peace’, men who do not love violence but prefer mediation and amity, there is a happy end, and a joyous destiny. But as for the unrighteous, for transgressors against God’s ways, they will all be destroyed together, for their destiny is to be ‘cut off’.
The Psalm closes with and assurance for the righteous, that is, for all true believers. They do not have to live lives of worry and concern for their salvation is in the hands of YHWH. Indeed their whole lives are in the hands of YHWH. When the time of trouble comes He is their stronghold. In Him they can find refuge. He is ever there to help them and to rescue them and to deliver them. Thus He rescues them from the unrighteous, and saves them as a result of the fact that they have taken refuge in Him and that their trust is in Him. They know that He will never let them down.
‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life, and they will never perish, and none will pluck them from My hand’ (John 10.27-28).
‘A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.’
Compare the same description in Psalm 70. The thought may be that he wanted to bring to God’s remembrance the sufferers, whom He seems to have forgotten. Or it may refer to the fact that the Psalm would bring sinners to remembrance of their true deserts, were it not for the grace of God. Or it may have in mind that he wants to remember how God was with him in his extremity. Or it may have in mind that the Psalmist wants to bring men to remembrance of their own sinfulness. Consider how the verb is regularly used with reference to penitent self-recollection on the part of sinners. See for example 1 Kings 17.18: Ezekiel 21.24; 29.16; Numbers 5.15.
The Psalm is often described as a ‘penitential Psalm’, because if contains the idea of deep repentance at the thought of sin. It divides into three sections.
1). The Psalmist Describes the Chastening that He is Experiencing and Acknowledges the Heinousness of His Sin (38.1-8).
He commences with a prayer that, while God may rebuke and chasten him as he deserves, He will not do it so much in anger as in grieved love (38.1). He cannot bear the thought that God could be wholly at odds with him. And he then goes on to describe the experience that he is going through, the depths of his spiritual anguish (38.2), his deep sense of sin (38.3-4), and the consequent spiritual chastening which he is enduring (38.5-8), because of what he has done. It is clear that he is going through a period of deep conviction of sin.
Whether he was actually physical experiencing fever and illness, or was simply describing his spiritual darkness of spirit in similar terms is debatable. But either way it was making him search out his heart before God. He was experiencing the chastening of God for the good of his soul (Hebrews 12.3-11).
Initially his prayer is to his covenant God, the One Whom he knows watches over him and cares for him. But he does not pray on the basis of a cosy relationship, for he knows that he has sinned, and sinned deeply. He knows that he must thus endure God’s displeasure. He does, however, know that he does it to One Who will welcome his repentance, and has the remedy for his sin. Chastening may be his lot, but he does not want it to turn out to be condemnation.
So as one who is enduring the hand of God pressing heavily on him, and as one who is aware of God’s arrows being fired at him, and ‘piercing his body’, an apt picture of the ways in which God brings home conviction of sin, he yet prays that God will deal with him in mercy and chastening rather than in wrath. Acknowledging fully that he is receiving his just deserts, he does not want to feel that God is dealing with him only in judgment. He accepts God’s rebukes, and God’s manifestation of displeasure, as just, but he wants to be able to see them in terms of the chastening of a stern Father, rather than as evidence that he is cut off from God’s mercy. Let YHWH then remember that He is his God, and not treat him as one for whom there is no forgiveness. Let Him rather have compassion on him in his failure.
He describes the state in which he finds himself as God’s chastening strikes home. His chastening may have been spiritual chastening which is being described here in vivid pictorial language, or it may well have included physical illness as one of God’s means of chastening (1 Corinthians 11.30), but either way he is finding it difficult to cope with, not because of the fact of the spiritual pressure or the illness, but because of the deep underlying sense of the sin that was responsible for it. And this is because he is aware of God’s indignation against his sin, and feels totally corrupt. He feels as though his flesh is rotten, and that he has no vestige of life within him, no ‘life in his bones’. (The bones of a man were often seen as representing his inner man). He feels that he is ‘dead in his sin’. Indeed he feels that his iniquities are so heavy that they are weighing him down, and that they are so many that they are overwhelming him. They are flowing over his head as though he were drowning in a river of them. For the truth is that he has seen himself as he really is in God’s sight.
Thus in Paul’s words he could say, ‘in me, that is in my flesh, there is no good thing, for to will is present with me, but how to do what is good I cannot discover’ (Romans 7.18). And he really meant it. That is why he feels totally lost and unworthy, even though he knows in his heart that a merciful God will offer him hope.
Note the two contrasts, ‘because of Your indignation --- because of my sin’. Both are bringing home to him the poverty of his spiritual condition, something which he now describes in more detail.
He is so overwhelmed by his sense of sin that he sees himself as wounded, with wounds that are putrefying and becoming loathsome. And he knows that all this because of his own folly. He does not try to hide from the truth. He has been very foolish, and now he is being made conscious of his own utter unworthiness. Thus he feels within himself a terrible pain at the thought of how sinful he is, and the result is that he is utterly bowed down by it to the earth. All day long he mourns over his sin, unable to obtain a sense of being forgiven, and his very loins are filled with a sense of burning as though gripped with fever (which, in fact, he may well have been). He feels that his flesh is unsound, and he feels continually faint and sore bruised. To him at that moment it is as though he cannot escape from his sin, and as though there can be no forgiveness for it (although happily, deep within him, he knows that there is such forgiveness, simply because of the compassion and mercy of God. That is why he is praying). Thus he groans within himself because his heart is so disquieted. He is a man filled with a sense of his own unworthiness. Such is what happens to a man or woman when they come to a full awareness of the truth about themselves.
Some who have known such a sense of their sinfulness will recognise the picture only too well. Others may not have experienced such a deep sense of sin. But all must recognise that the pictures are describing the truth about our sins, whoever we are, whether we are conscious of it or not.
Thus we see that sin:
And this is true of us all even when we do not ourselves sense its awful effects. Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil (John 3.19). They do not want to be reminded of their sinfulness. But those who do the truth come to the light, even when it reveals to them what they are, because by coming to the light they can have their sins dealt with, while at the same time manifesting their true condition of heart.
So as we come to His light (1 John 1.5-6) our sinfulness must be recognised by us all, some to a greater extent than others, although happily in our case being then followed by thankfulness that the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7). For the Psalmist that experience of such forgiveness still lies ahead.
Up to this point the Psalmist’s emphasis has been on his own personal state. It is his state of heart that is the concern of his covenant God. But now he turns his thoughts outwards towards the outer world and its attitude towards him, and it is therefore to his ‘Sovereign Lord’ (adonai) that he now looks, the One Who rules over the affairs of men (although still as the One Who loves him and is concerned about him).
He knows that his Lord knows what is happening to him, and he reminds Him of the number of people who are against him, even those whom he knows should be there to support him, all adding to his sense of sin. And they have deserted him and he is left friendless apart from his Lord. However he refuses to condemn them. Indeed he will not even rebuke them, for he knows that YHWH his Sovereign Lord is with him, and He will be his help.
Almost at the end of his tether he yet knows that his Lord is aware of his situation. It is this that sustains him. He can say to Him, ‘You know the way that I take’ (Job 23.10), and be aware that it is true. For he is confident that his Sovereign Lord knows all his desires, and is aware of all his groanings. He recognises that God is aware how fast his heart is beating, and that God knows that his strength is failing him. Indeed God must surely recognise that the light has gone from his eyes and that he is, as it were, struggling in the darkness.
He knows that God is aware that his friends and relations have deserted him. That those who had professed to love him, including even his own kinsmen, are standing at a distance, not wanting to be associated with him because they see him as a political hazard, or even as being plague-ridden (whether really or symbolically). No one is ready to step in, in order to protect him. No one wants to be involved in a ticklish situation. It is an experience that many a man of God engaged in controversy has had to face when others have been fearful of standing with him.
And meanwhile his enemies are laying snares in order to entrap him. And they have as their aim the taking of his life. He knows that they are slandering him, and speaking mischievous things about him. That lies and false rumours abound on their lips. And he is aware that all day long they plan their deceitful tactics in order to discredit him. It is clear that they are out to get him, no matter what evil methods they have to use.
But the Psalmist refuses to be alarmed. He is not concerned by their lies and deceit, so his ears are deaf to their subtle words and calumnies. He will say nothing in his own defence, as though he was a man who had heard nothing, and had therefore nothing to reprove, or to plead in his own defence. While they may rail at him he will not retaliate against them. (This may suggest that had he wished to do so he could have gained vengeance on them). And why is he behaving in this magnanimous way? It is because his confidence is in his covenant God, and because he is confident that his Sovereign Lord will answer him in his need, and will bring him through his trial. All his attention is on his God, and thus his ears are deaf to all else.
3). He Calls on YHWH his Lord for Deliverance from his Enemies in View of his Own Deep Repentance and his Confidence in the True Faithfulness to Him of YHWH, his God and Lord (38.15-22).
As we have seen verse 15 concludes his previous thoughts and makes sense of them. But it also prepares the way for his further thought, and so we include it again here. It is because his hope is in his covenant God, and because he is sure that his Sovereign Lord will answer him, that he has such confidence in spite of his sin and his desertion by those around him. And we should note also that at the root of his confidence is the fact that, in spite of his admitted sinfulness, he basically follows the thing that is good (verse 20). Thus he knows that, while he may have been weak and foolish, his God knows that the set of his heart is true (verse 20). It is because God knows the underlying state of his heart that he can have such confidence in His mercy.
And it is because of his confidence that YHWH is with him, and that his Sovereign Lord and God will answer him, that he can stand there without fear. That is why he can speak lightly of men rejoicing over him when his foot slips. For he knows that they will never really be able to rejoice over his final downfall because his God is with him.
Nevertheless at present they speak boldly against him with their accusations, thinking that they really are about to bring about his downfall. They are sure that YHWH is on their side. But there is something that they are overlooking, and that is his genuine repentance before YHWH. For while they are making themselves so big against him and are ‘strutting their stuff’, he on his part is humbling himself before his God. He is openly declaring his iniquity, and expressing regret for his sin. Thus he is sure that in the end they can only fail, because God will be on his side.
Nevertheless his enemies appear lively and strong. And now we come to the nub of the matter. While his enemies are lively and strong, those who hate him wrongfully are numerous, and they include among their number those who render evil for good. This reveals the fact that in the last analysis all their hatred is directed at him because he follows ‘the thing that is good’ (literally ‘for my following of good’). Now we know why he is confident that through YHWH he will triumph. It is because he is the one who alone is upholding YHWH’s truth and righteousness. He alone has the good of all in his mind. How then can YHWH not step in on his side?
And so he finishes his Psalm by calling confidently on his covenant God to help him, and not to forsake him. It is in this that his assurance lies, that YHWH at least will not forsake him. So although his friends and relatives might stand afar off from him (verse 11), and his enemies might act against him, he knows that God will not be far from him, and that He will act for him. Indeed, he is confident that He even then stands there ready to help him.
That is finally why he knows that he can call on Him to make haste to help him as the One Who is Sovereign Lord, and especially as the One Who is Lord over his very much needed deliverance. He is the Lord, his salvation. And he knows therefore that his request will be answered. For his sovereign Lord is also his Saviour, He is his salvation, and his salvation is thus wholly of the Lord. And in view of that it cannot therefore fail.
‘For the Chief Musician, for Jeduthun. A Psalm to/for David.’
This Psalm is offered to the person responsible for the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and is of the Davidic collection. ‘To (or ‘for’) David’ may indicate that it was dedicated to David, written for the Davidic house, or even written by David himself.
Jeduthun’s name appears also in the headings of Psalms 62 and 77. He is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 16.41ff; 25.1ff; 2 Chronicles 5.12; 35.15, along with Heman and Asaph, as one of the directors of the music in the Temple, and his descendants continued to officiate after the Exile (Nehemiah 11.17). His other name Ethan was probably his name before he was appointed (1 Chronicles 6.44ff; 15.17, 19).
The Psalm appears to have been written while the Psalmist is going through a ‘near death’ illness, and divides into four sections:
1). The Psalmist is determined not to say anything in the presence of unrighteous people that might give them occasion to criticise God. Once he is alone, however, he cannot keep silent (39.1-3).
The Psalmist declares that he will ‘keep his ways’. That is, he will watch over them and control them. And his aim and purpose is in order that he might not sin with his tongue by bringing his doubts about life before the unrighteous while they are in his presence, or alternatively by bringing his doubts about the unrighteous who are in his thoughts, before men. The latter problem was a constant one in the Psalms. Why did the unrighteous flourish?
So he determines to keep a bridle on his tongue, lest he say anything that brings dishonour on God. Wise is the man or woman who keeps a watch over what comes from their mouths.
Thus he was ‘dumb with silence’, saying nothing, even about what was good, lest he slip up with his tongue. But such was the force of the thoughts that were flowing into his mind, that his sorrow was stirred, and his heart was hot within him. His meditations were so powerful that they were too much for him to hold in. And thus while he was musing a fire burned in his heart, and in the end he could no longer keep silence.
2). His concern was with his awareness of his own frailty and of the fact that life appears on the whole to be vain and that a man does not know what will happen to the possessions that he has built up once he is dead. Thus as he lies on his sickbed it raises the question of the very meaning and purpose of life (39.4-6).
He calls on YHWH to bring home to him how short his life is, what the measure of his days is, and how frail he is. Indeed he recognises that each of his days are but a handsbreadth, a tiny length of time in the great ocean of time, and that his whole life from start to finish is as nothing before God.
And meanwhile what value does that life have? Even at a man’s very best it is simply vanity. Man’s life is like a dream, a passing image, only for a fleeting breath can men make a noise and enjoy themselves. And during this passing dream he builds up wealth and possessions only for them to fall into other hands in a way which is out of his control. And who knows what they will do with them? Such is life without God.
3). His solution lies in hoping in YHWH and walking rightly before Him, being delivered from all his transgressions. Meanwhile therefore he prays that YHWH will restore him to health, while recognising that he himself through his illness experience is being corrected for his own sins (39.7-11).
His solution lies in hoping in YHWH. He recognises that that is what he is waiting for. If there is any solution it is to be found in God, and in living for Him. So he prays that he might be delivered from all his transgressions, and might live a life that cannot be reproached by the foolish (those who themselves ignore God - Psalm 14.1), a life pleasing to God.
Here the suggestion appears to be that he was struck dumb with wonder as he recognised that God had done what he asked. He had delivered him for his transgressions and from all reproach, and had responded to his hope. He had brought him peace and rest in the recognition that his life was in God’s hands.
So he now prays that he might recover from his illness. For his illness had dragged him down and almost devoured him, as by a blow from God’s hand. The result of this rebuke from God, which had been in order to correct him from his sinful ways, was that he had become but a shadow of his former self. He had become, as it were, moth-eaten. And it had revealed to him how vain life in itself was.
4). Recognising the brevity of a man’s life on this earth, in comparison with God’s, he prays that he may be restored and given a little more time before his life is finally over so that he can make good use of it.
The idea behind these words is that the earth is God’s, and we enter into it but briefly, as though we were mere immigrants with only a short time to dwell on the earth, before finally going on our way from here and being no longer on it, God being the only One Who has permanence here.
This idea of being a sojourner is applied by Abraham to himself (Genesis 23.4), by Moses to all Israel, considered as the feudal subjects and dependents of YHWH (Leviticus 25.23) and by David to himself and his contemporaries (1 Chronicles 29.15). All saw themselves as just ‘passing through’.
Thus he prays for the restoration of his strength so that he might fulfil his days on earth, before he must finally depart from it. He wants to be able to make the best use of the time he has left. The Psalm gives no indication of what lies beyond (unlike, for example Psalms 16.11; 17.15; 23.6), but it does exude a confidence and faith in God that is in line with those ideas. He simply rests his hope in God. Peter applies this idea of the ‘stranger and sojourner’ to the Christian as he goes through life towards his heavenly home (1 Peter 2.11).
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm to/for David.’
This Psalm is offered to the person responsible for the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and is of the Davidic collection. ‘To (or ‘for’) David’ may indicate that it was dedicated to David, written for the Davidic house, or even written by David himself.
The Psalm in its final form appears to have been presented by David to the Chief Musician for use in the worship in the Tabernacle. It very much reflects a certain period in his life, when he experienced God’s merciful deliverances only to find himself then plunged into even worse troubles. (See 1 Samuel 19.1-27.12). It divides into a number of sections, the last of which (40.13-17) is paralleled in Psalm 70. But the letter may well be an extract from the Psalm for use in public worship.
The Psalm commences with a cry of triumph as he is delivered from some predicament, which has resulted in his being inspired to compose and sing a new song (40.1-3), and it continues with a period of consolidation in which he can rejoice in God’s works (40.4-5) leading up to his dedication of himself to follow God’s will as revealed in His Instruction (40.6-8), something which results in his declaring God’s faithfulness to all the assembled people (40.9-10).
But then comes a period of trouble in which he is very much aware that his own sins are overwhelming him, a period in which his enemies are seeking to take full advantage of him, and he brings the Psalm to its conclusion in the confidence that God will deliver him out of it, in spite of his undeserving, because He is his Helper and Deliverer.
It is a reminder that there are many ups and downs in life, and of our need in the midst of them to give ourselves wholly to God, whatever the future holds. It is a reminder that while such dedication might lead us into even more troubles, it also certain that through such troubles we will learn that God is our Helper and Deliverer too. The idea that God’s people must rejoice in such tribulation, that is tribulation that brings them closer to God, is prominent in the New Testament (see Romans 5.1-5; Hebrews 12.2-13; James 1.2-12; 1 Peter 1.6-7).
The Psalm follows a regular pattern found in many prayers, especially those of spiritual people facing severe difficulties who do not just want to be seen as launching straight into a begging session. It is a pattern of true prayer. It begins with a consideration of God’s mercies, accompanied by an expression of gratitude for them, followed by a statement of confidence in His faithfulness. It then results in a rededication to His service, and an assertion by the worshipper that he will give faithful testimony to others about what God has done, before launching into a declaration of an awareness of present sin and into a plea for help in the particular difficulties being faced. And it ends with a call for God not to delay in acting in mercy, but to help him in spite of his undeserving. It is thus a well rounded prayer.
We can analyse it as follows:
David Rejoices In His Past Deliverance Because He Believes That It Will Cause Many To Trust In YHWH (40.1-3).
As David looks back to past trial he describes how he had waited patiently and trustingly for YHWH, and how YHWH had bent down to him and had heard his cry. He had lifted him from the ‘pit of tumult’ and from the miry clay, and had set his feet on a rock and had established his goings.
The picture is a vivid one of a man struggling in a quagmire and being rescued from it by being drawn out onto a rock. But the quagmire is a quagmire of worldly problems, being faced up to in a tumultuous world that would seek to drag us down. It can however be seen as any troubles with which we might be beset as we struggle to face up to the quagmire of life. And the promise is that, as He did with David, God will lift us out from them to a place of safety and security. He will set our feet on a rock, where the ground is firm beneath our feet, so that we might continue on securely.
The result was that David, ‘the sweet Psalmist of Israel’, found himself with a new song on his mouth, a song of praise to ‘our God’. The use of ‘our’ indicates that he wants all to join with him in praise. For his purpose in the song is that men may see what has happened and be filled with reverent awe and love, and may thus learn to trust in God.
He Declares That The Man Who Does So Trust In YHWH, And Lives Accordingly, Will Experience God’s Wonderful Working On His Behalf (40.4-5).
David now outlines the blessedness of those who do so trust in God, and thus turn from all sinful ways. They do not listen to those proud men who in their pride ignore God and would lead them astray, nor do they listen to those who would lead them into dishonesty and deceit, for God has made their thoughts pure.
For such people God performs many wonderful things, and His thoughts and purposes are continually loving towards them. Indeed what He will do for them is so vast and so manifold that it cannot be tabulated or numbered. It is more than can possibly be sorted out into some sort of sequences in order that it can be described. For one thing multiplies and tumbles over on another, and then another, so that His actions towards them are beyond listing or counting.
He Recognises That In Order For A Man To Express His Gratitude to God Religious Observances Are Not Enough, And That What God Requires Of Him Is Total Obedience to His Will, Something To Which He Gladly Accedes (40.6-8).
He affirms that he has used his God-provided ears (the ears that God has dug for him) in order to listen to what God has to say, and has recognised that God requires not simply religious observance, but an obedient heart. He had no doubt heard of the words of Samuel to Saul, which would have echoed throughout the land. ‘Has YHWH as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of YHWH. Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams’ (1 Samuel 15.22). And he wants YHWH to know that he will use the ears that He has given him in order to listen.
The whole range of offerings and sacrifices are in mind. Both the blood sacrifices and the meal offerings, and including those most important of offerings, the wholly offered burnt offerings and the sin offerings. All are required by YHWH for the purposes of atonement, but they are not sufficient in themselves. What is more important than all is an obedient heart (compare Isaiah 1.11-18).
And he wants YHWH to know that his obedience is such that the guarantee of it is in writing, for it is written in a book, ‘Lo I am come, I delight to do your will O my God, yes, your Instruction is in my heart’.
The reference may be to his own private record of his own dedication of himself, including some of his psalms, or to the Book of Deuteronomy, or indeed to the whole of the Instruction of Moses (the Pentateuch). But the fact that it is recorded in writing is seen as giving it more force. (For ‘roll of a book’ compare Jeremiah 36.2, 4; Ezekiel 2.9. In both cases what was written was of immense import).
What is written, however is more important than where it is written. And what is written is that he will come to God, and will with great delight obey Him fully from the heart. This is what is required of all men, to do the will of God (compare Psalm 19.7-14), and have His Instruction written in their heart (compare Jeremiah 31.33). And when the words are applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, great David’s greater son, the book is the Scriptures, and the obedience is according to the eternal will of God, but carried out through suffering by our Lord Himself in order that He might be a perfect and complete sacrifice (Hebrews 10.5-14).
He Declares to God That He Has Been Faithful In His Testimony Towards His Fellow Believers About God’s Goodness And Faithfulness, Which Is Of Course An Essential Part Of His Obedience (40.9-10).
He declares that in the assembly and worship of the people of God he has proclaimed glad tidings of ‘righteousness’. In mind here are probably God’s righteous acts in delivering His people from Philistine oppression through him (e.g. 1 Samuel 6.6-9, 30). We must remember here that the ideas of ‘righteousness’ and ‘salvation’ are regularly seen in parallel. And he assures God that he will not refrain from doing so, so that all the glory might go to YHWH, something that he is assured God already knows.
Thus he can quite honestly declare that he has not hidden the truth about God’s righteous activity in his heart, but has faithfully declared his faithfulness and deliverance to all. Nor has he concealed God’s covenant love or His truth from them in the great assembly. In other words he assures God that he has made quite clear to the people how much they owe to God in His faithfulness and love, for their deliverance.
Having Established His Gratitude And Loyalty And The Faithfulness Of His Testimony With Regard to God, He Now Seeks God’s Aid In Helping Him With Regard To His Own Sinfulness And Prays Also For Assistance Against Those Who Are His Enemies (40.11-15).
It is one of David’s outstanding characteristics that when he faces trouble he recognises how many of his problems are due to his own sinfulness. Thus he does not just blame Saul or the world for his problems, or even God, but acknowledges that much of his trouble stems from his own behaviour.
So as he prays for the help of a gracious and merciful God, and in doing so acknowledges His compassion and truth in all that He does, he recognises that much of his trouble results from his own iniquities. If only he had been more humble, and not so willing to encourage the plaudits of the crowds (1 Samuel 18.6-8), if only he had not made such great demands in the face of what God had accomplished through him, by wanting to marry the king’s daughter (1 Samuel 18.27-28), if only he had been more thoughtful in his behaviour, if only he had not been so proud, and so vain, and so greedy, perhaps he might not have been in this position in which he found himself. Thus he recognises how much his own sins have multiplied and rebounded on himself. And his heart fails within him.
Nevertheless the greater sin is with his opponents. And so he calls on YHWH to deliver him and hurry to his aid. Let those who seek after him to destroy him find themselves confounded. Let those who delight in his hurt be driven back and brought to dishonour. Let those who mock him and seek to shame him, themselves be desolate because of their own shame. For YHWH will be aware how much of it is their own fault, and indeed is what they deserve. His confidence lies in the fact of his own trust in God, and in his own faithfulness and obedience to God previously revealed (verses 1-10). He is sure that YHWH will be on his side because he is faithful to His covenant requirements and always grateful to Him for His help.
He Ends Up By Depicting Who Are The Truly Righteous, To Whom He Knows YHWH Will Provide Help, And While Not Seeing Himself As Comparing With Them, Nevertheless Looks To God For Him Also To Help Him (40.16-17).
He closes the Psalm by turning men’s attention away from him to YHWH. He wants them to look at God and honour Him, and recognise that their safety, security and blessings came from His hands. And he hopes that there will be a little left for himself.
One of the tests of a truly righteous man is that he does not see himself as righteous. He is deeply aware of his own failings. And so it was with David. He was one of the most moral and righteous men of his times (in spite of the black spots) and yet he saw himself as simply ‘poor and needy’, and indeed could not fully understand why the Lord bothered about him. But he knew that He did and he rejoiced in it.
He closes by calling on God to ensure that the righteous receive what they ‘deserve’, God’s security, protection and provision. Let those who see Him, be glad in Him (because He has faithfully provided for them), let those who love his salvation constantly be able to say, ‘YHWH be magnified’ (because they know and are aware that YHWH has truly saved them).
And then his humility comes out in that he, the chosen of YHWH, is so surprised that his Sovereign Lord (Adonai) thinks on someone so poor and needy as he is. But in his heart he knows that He does, and so he calls on Him as his God not to delay, but to come to him, bringing him help and deliverance, and he does so with full confidence in his heart (‘yet the Lord thinks on me’).
For the Chief Musician. A Psalm to/for David.
The Psalm opens with David bewailing an illness which has left him in a weak state, and declaring that those who have consideration for him in that state will be blessed by YHWH. Indeed, he declares that it is YHWH Who will support him on his sickbed, and is in process of restoring him (‘has turned his lying down in his sickness’).
He frankly admits that his suffering is partly due to his sinfulness, and asks for God’s mercy to be shown to him, but at the same time he bewails the fact that his enemies are taking advantage of the situation and are speaking against him, hoping for his death. They come to see him, as befits a king, but it is clear that it is all a false front, and is simply so that they can talk glibly to him, and then take lying tales about his situation to the outer world, where there is much whispering and expectation of his death.
What saddens him most is that even one who was close to him, whom he had trusted, and who had eaten bread with him, had proved false.
He prays that YHWH will raise him up from his sickbed, and enable him to requite himself on such enemies. Indeed he is so certain that this will be so that he considers that it demonstrates that YHWH delights in him, something further proved by the assurance that he has that YHWH will not allow his enemies to triumph over him. And he closes the Psalm by expressing his confidence that God will uphold him in his integrity, and will indeed set him before His face for ever.
Many relate it to the machinations and plottings of Absalom as being at a time when David was going through a severe illness. Such an illness would explain why he was caught so totally unawares. The treacherous friend is then seen as being Ahithophel. But the very dedication of the Psalm to the Chief Musician gives it a ‘universal’ application to believers.
Blessing Is Pronounced On The One Who Considers The Sick King In His Illness, And A Prayer Is Made For The Deliverance And Recovery Of The Sick King (41.1-3).
This first section of the book of Psalms commenced with a declaration of blessedness, on those who meditate in God’s Instruction day and night, and here it ends with a description of the blessedness of those who give consideration to the weak. We may think in terms of, ‘blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy’ (Matthew 5.7).
That David sees himself as one of the weak and needy has already come out in 40.17, so that in the first instance it is David who is in mind. He was clearly going through a severe illness, severe enough for his enemies to hope that it would bring about his end.
God’s blessing on those who consider the weak and helpless is considered to be threefold:
‘And do not deliver him to the will of his enemies. YHWH will support him on the couch of languishing. You have turned his lying down in his sickness.’ This may be seen as continuing the thought of the first line (with lines 2-5 being seen as an interjection), thus being a prayer for the weak and helpless that he might not be delivered to the will of his enemies, and confidently asserting YHWH’s support for him on his sick bed, and declaring that the illness has turned so that he will soon now recover from his sickness. Or the sixth line may be seen as a prayer for the one being blessed, and a request that he too might be helped when he is ill.
Thus we have here a prayer of gratitude for the aid provided to a person in their illness by those who have their interests at heart, which includes the desire that they might be blessed. Such people were very important in David’s case because they were maintaining the kingdom and keeping his throne safe.
The Psalmist Acknowledges That His Problems Partly Arise Because Of His Own Sinfulness, And Then Explains To YHWH About The Behaviour Of His Enemies (41.4-9).
Lying on his sick bed the Psalmist has been made to face up to his own sins. And he confesses his sin to God and prays that He will have mercy on him and heal him wholly within. There is nothing like an illness for making us face up to the truth about ourselves.
He explains to God the behaviour of his enemies towards him;
Behind his words there clearly lies a plea that God will observe their behaviour and counteract it.
‘An evil disease.’ Literally ‘a thing of Belial’. They might have intended by this that in their view David was stricken because of his wickedness. Thus his death must be seen as certain.
What grieves him most is that one of his closest friends, to whom he has demonstrated such love and generosity, even inviting him to the king’s g’s table, has taken the part of his enemies and has acted against him.
In John 13.18 these words are applied by Jesus to the behaviour of Judas. He was saying that what had happened to David himself, had also now happened to great David’s greater son. It was the fate of all who truly served God.
He Prays For Healing And Expresses His Certainty That God Will Help Him Against His Enemies, Confident Also That God Upholds His Integrity And Has Indeed Set Him Before His Face For Ever (41.10-12).
The Psalmist prays that God will heal him and raise him up so that he might deal with his enemies as they deserve and maintain the throne for YHWH (we must remember that they were seeking to introduce the dreadful evil of civil war into his kingdom), and expresses his joy in recognising that his deliverance reveals that God delights in him. It demonstrates that God is upholding him in his integrity, and has set him before His face for ever.
We should note that the reason that he does expect God to uphold him is because of his integrity. It is not simply because he is God’s ‘favourite’ as such, but because he is also loyal and true to YHWH and walks in His ways. That indeed is why He sets him before His face for ever. To be ‘set before His face for ever’ is to be living in His presence and under His protection, knowing that His eye is ever upon him, both now and for ever. We note here again David’s assurance of God’s eternal interest in him (compare 16.11; 17.15; 23.6). This is especially emphatic in the light of the following reference to ‘from everlasting to everlasting’. He has at this moment eternity in his heart.
The Psalm then ends with words which not only conclude the Psalm but also the whole section. They declare a blessing on YHWH the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. May He be blessed and praised for ever! Amen and amen.
Final Thoughts On The Psalm.
It is interesting how much of this Psalm might be seen as applying to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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